Echizen (越前)  is a city in Fukui (prefecture).
Its Japanese name refers to the ancient province of Japan, Koshi, which covered the area known as Hokuriku today. Echizen means "the beginning of Koshi." The region has a long history as an important military base and castle town, though nothing is left of its castles today. The city promotes itself as the city of Murasaki Shikibu, who stayed here for a year and is said to have been greatly influenced by her life here. Echizen is also home to many temples and shrines.
In 2005, the cities of Takefu and Imadate were combined to form Echizen city. However, it is often still referred to as Takefu, including the names of the highway interchange and train station. This fact, along with the fact that two of Echizen's neighbors are Echizen town and Minami-Echizen town can cause of confusion.
The nearest airport to Echizen is in Komatsu. Buses connect Komatsu Airport with Komatsu Station for ¥260, from which you can take a Hokuriku Line local train or limited express train to Takefu station in Echizen.
If coming internationally, the best airport to arrive in is Kansai Airport in Osaka. From Kansai Airport, you can reach Fukui by train in about 3 1/2 hours by taking the Haruka limited express train to Shin-Osaka, and transferring to the Thunderbird or Raichō, described below.
Echizen is served by Takefu Station on the JR Hokuriku line, which links Toyama with Maibara. A connection to the Kosei Line at Tsuruga provides a direct link to Kyoto and Osaka.
Echizen is connected to Kyoto and Osaka 1-2 times per hour by the Thunderbird and Raichō limited express services. All Raicho trains and a handful of Thunderbird trains serve Takefu Station. Both of these trains make the run from Osaka in about 1 hour and 40 minutes and from Kyoto in about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
The Shirasagi limited express also stops at Takefu Station on runs from Nagoya via Maibara. Trains reach Echizen from Maibara in 50 minutes.
If coming from Tokyo, take the hourly Tokaido Shinkansen Hikari service that stops at Maibara station. From Maibara, take the Shirasagi to Takefu station (3 hours and 20 minutes).
There is no charge for the above services with the Japan Rail Pass.
In addition to the JR Hokuriku line which runs through Echizen (stopping at Takefu station), Echizen is served by buses and trains operated by Fukui Railway.
Driving is by far the best way to get around within the city. Echizen is accessible from the Hokuriku Expressway at the Takefu Interchange, and is also accessible from Highway 8, which runs through the city.
- Murasaki Shikibu Park (紫式部公園). This park was built in honor of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of "The Tale of Genji" who lived for a year in Echizen with her father, Tametoki Fukuwara, governor of this area. The park was modeled after a nobleman's residence in the Heian period, and looks like a very old, rich, and elegant garden. A statue of Murasaki Shikibu stands in the park, gazing in the direction of Kyoto.
- Oshio Hachiman Shrine (大塩八幡宮). In 887 this shrine was built by Kino Tomonaka, who was exiled to Echizen area because of a false charge against the government. He continuously prayed to clear his name of the charges for some years, and eventually was allowed to return to the capital, Nara. To display his gratitude, he built this shrine, which is now a National Important Cultural Property.
- Omushi Shrine (大虫神社). It is said that this shrine has more than one thousand years of history. The shrine was rebuilt in 1996. There are two figures of male gods which are National Important Cultural Properties. A large rock god, Oiwasama, is enshrined here. Pure water called Ishigami-no-mizu is used by many people to wash their hands or rinse out their mouths. This water was once used as part of the town’s water supply.
- Gekkouji Temple (月光寺). During the famine from 1833 to 1844, many people starved to death. To remember these deaths, Gekkouji temple was built in 1847, and memorial services began to be held. One important part of this temple is the beautiful giant copper Buddha which is enshrined in the main hall. 500 stones on which ancestors’ names are been written are inside the body of the Buddha.
- Hoyamaji Temple (帆山寺). This temple is dedicated to Senju Kannon, a transformed Buddha that has 1000 hands. It was made by a priest named Taicho in the Nara era. Other Buddha statues are also located here. For example, you can see the Nehan Buddha, a statue of the dying Buddha, along with a picture of Buddha's crying pupils on the wall behind it. A smiling Buddha, called Obinzurusan, is standing in the front gate of the temple. It is believed that one will recover from any illness by rubbing the corresponding part of the statue.
- Hino Shrine (日野神社). This shrine is located at the entrance of Mt. Hino, known as the Mt. Fuji of Echizen. The shrine and all of the mountain is thought to be a sacred place. There is another shrine at the top of the mountain. The Mt. Hino festival takes place during the summer. Dances are performed to honor the god of Mt. Hino. At night, participants climb Mt. Hino with lit torches to watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain. There is also an "ema" house where you can view wishes written in 1665 on wooden plaques with pictures of the seasonal harvest.
- Kura-no-Tsuji (蔵の辻). Echizen's historic area in downtown Takefu, it is filled with old warehouses with white painted walls. This area flourished in the Edo Era as a stopping point for transporting supplies between the Kansai area and the Hokuriku district. The line of warehouses belonged to ancient traders. Now they are maintained in the district activation program, and a must-see-spot in downtown. Outdoor concerts and festivals often take place in the open square in the center of this neighborhood.
- Injoji Temple (引接寺). Built in 1488, Injoji was one of the main branches of the Shinseishu sect of Tendai Buddhism. There are 9 buildings in the temple, which is one of the most famous temples in the city. It’s noted for the front gate which is completely made out of zelkova. There are great sculptures in this gate; 16 Buddhist saints, a dignified lion, a carp swimming up the rapids, and more. The huge Buddha made by Shakudani rocks is also a must see.
- Soja Shrine (総社大神宮). This is the main Shrine in Echizen city. Gods from shrines all over Echizen are worshipped together here. The citizens call it "Osanja-san." Many believers visit this shrine during spring, summer, and fall events.
- Ryusenji Temple (龍泉寺). In 1367 Ryusenji Temple was built by Tsugen-jakurei. It’s part of the Sotoshu sect of Zen Buddhism. The temple was favored by the Honda family who were wealthy landowners here at the time. The temple has protected and maintained the graves of the Honda family since its foundation.
- Takefu Town Hall Museum (武生公会堂記念館). This hall was built in 1929. It was repaired to keep its former appearance, and was reopened as a museum in 1995. Now, various projects take place here, such as compiling historical materials of the area, introducing the town’s history, concerts, and cultural seminars.
- Teramachi Dori (寺町通り). This historical street in downtown Takefu is famous for its stony paths and old-looking buildings.
- Ryumonji Temple (龍門寺). This Temple has stood in the simple architecture of Zen temples for a long time. It opened in 1299 and afterward was changed into a fort. The fort became a local base of politics and military affairs. Oda Nobunaga, who was in control of the army, set up his camp here to prepare for the war against Asakura Yoshikage and the Buddhist revolts. Now you can see the ruins of the moat and fort inside the temple’s ground.
- Kongoin Temple (金剛院). Kongoin is in the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism, and looks like an old temple in the mountains. It was built in 1433 and moved to its present location near Takefu Station by Tomimasa Honda in 1610. Mitama Festival is held here on July 15 every year. In the festival, the silent precinct of this temple is lit up with 6,000 candles and a group of priests walk around while reading sutras.
- The House where Chihiro Iwasaki was born (いわさきちひろの生家). This is the house where Chihiro Iwasaki, a well-known artist, was born. She was born in the Taisho Era. The people that lived in the house restored it so that you can see and learn about the culture and lifestyle of that era. Chihiro died, but her pictures are still here for everyone to appreciate.
- Ajimano Park (味真野苑). Ajimano has a deep connection with the Manyo-shu (a Nara Era poem collaboration book). It includes 63 tragic love poems written by Nakatomino Yakamori, who was exiled to this area, and Sanono Otogamino Otome, who had to live in Nara apart from Yakamori. These poems are featured in the Manyo-shu. In this park, there is a stone monument on which 15 famous kawa poems were carved.
- Manyo-kan (万葉館). "Manyo-shu" is a royal collection of wakas, traditional Japanese poems, from the Nara era (about 1200 years ago). Some of the "Manyo-shu" wakas are said to have been written in a part of Echizen City, in Ajimano. These poems are displayed here.
- Manyo kikka-en (万葉菊花園). This is the Chrysanthemums Exhibition Hall. You can see life-size dolls covered with chrysanthemums, which are exhibited during the Kikuningyo Festival in Takefu Central Park. The flowers are displayed here and continue growing throughout the year. You can view the traditional way of growing mums. Some unique flowers are "nanahon-date" – a flower that branches off into seven directions, "kengai" – a flower whose petals spread out like a carpet of flowers, and "senrin-giku" – a sort of clumped up bunch of flowers. There are many other varieties to see when you visit.
- Ruins of Komaru Castle (小丸城跡). Komaru Castle was built by Oda Nobunaga’s follower, Sassa Narimasa, from 1575 to 1581. Here you can still see the foundations, part of the gate, and some roof tiles on which stories about the Buddhist revolts against Oda’s repression were written.
- Reisenji Temple (霊泉寺). Shiba Yoshitoshi built this shrine during the Muromachi Era (1336-1573). There is a rare, 8 meter tall, black lacquered wooden statue of a standing Buddha.
- Ajimano Shrine (味真野神社). This shrine worships Emperor Keitai. Kuratani Tsugutoshi, the grandson of General Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, moved into this place in the Muromachi Era (1336-1573). Inside the shrine is a part of the small wall which used to surround Kuratani’s fort.
- Takefu Knife village (タケフナイフヴィレッジ). This is a workshop where handmade cutlery is made by local artisans. You can see how to make cutlery in the traditional fashion of Echizen. You can even join a class that teaches how to make a letter opener, kitchen knife, or how to polish and sharpen knives.
- Goshoji Temple (豪摂寺). Goshoji Temple is one of the headquarters of Shinsyu sects in Buddhism. It is a very sober experience to walk under the valuable, decorated gate which is made of zelkova wood. The temple was built in Kyoto by Shinran in 1223. It was moved to Echizen City in 1615. The spacious temple contains Shinran Hall, Amida Hall, a warehouse of sutras, and a bell tower. Inspired after visiting the temple in 1983 the poets Tekkan Yosano and Akiko Yosano wrote 14 tankas expressing how beautifully Goshoji Temple was wreathed with the fallen leaves, and how much we are blessed by Buddha.
- Jofukuji Temple Garden (浄福寺庭園). Jufukuji Temple’s garden is designated one of the must-see spots in Japan, owing to its beautiful Japanese style garden with rocks, sand, and moss. The temple was made by Tairano Yorimori whose elder brother was Tairano Kiyomori, a samurai leader of the Kamakura Era. From here you can see the beautiful Mt. Hino. A big holly tree on a mound looks like a mountain. And the moss around it is appears as a wave in the sea. The garden has many seasonal flowers: camellias in the spring, azaleas in the early summer, maple leaves in the fall, and the white flowers of holly in the winter.
- Kakyo Park (花匡公園). This is where we can remember Emperor Keitaiz’s life in Echizen. This park has a thousand cherry blossom trees. The view of them blooming is beautiful. In fall, colored leaves are extremely beautiful. You can enjoy the four seasons here.
- Usuzumi Cherry Tree (薄墨桜). There are many old cherry trees on Mt. Sanri. One of them is called "Usuzumi Cherry Tree," and is about six hundred yeas old. A long time ago, Ohto-no-oh had to part with his girlfriend to be appointed emperor -- Emperor Keitai -- in Kyoto. There after, the tree's blossom's color became lighter, so the story goes, because of her sadness. So the cheery tree is called "Usuzumi," which means almost colorless pink.
- Ougiga Pond (皇子ケ池). This pond was once used as a baby’s bath for Emperor Keitai’s sons, whi became Emperor Ankan and Emperor Senge. It's water is very clean, like a fountain. Now, it is shaped like a hexagon.
- Japanese Paper Plaza (和紙の広場). This plaza is about 230 meters long. Paper shops and coffee houses are lined along it. There is a music bench, a fountain with koi in it, and many kinds of trees. It’s a great place to relax or go for a walk.
- Papyrus Center (パピルス館). This building holds information and a workshop about the art of traditional Echizen paper. Visitors can make their own piece of Echizen paper in 20 minutes.
- The Cultural Museum of Paper (紙の文化博物館). This museum exhibits information and history about Echizen paper and other traditional Japanese papers. Exhibits include milling techniques and the origin of Echizen paper.
- The Craftsman’s Studio in Udatsu (卯立の工芸館). This building is a reconstruction of the original paper mill from the Edo period. While here you can view the traditional paper milling process. Ichbei Iwano, the current owner, is following in the footsteps of his father, a famous paper maker. He is the 9th generation of traditional paper makers in Imadate. He and his father have been given the honor of "Living National Treasure" by the Japanese Minister of Culture.
- Okafuto Shrine & Otaki Shrine (岡太神社、大瀧神社). These shrines stand side by side on the top of Mt. Gongen, and a combined shrine, which was rebuilt through the advanced skills in constructing shrines in the latter half of Edo Era, lies at the foot of the mountain. The goddess of paper, -- the only one in Japan -- "Mistress Kawakami," is enshrined here. Legend says she taught people how to make paper 1,500 years ago. In 1985 these shrines were designated a National Important Cultural Property.
- Kojiro Park (小次郎公園). A statue of Kojiro Sasaki is watches over this park. Kojiro was a famous fencer from Fukui city. Many stones stand silently here. In the garden next to Kojiro park, various flowering cherry trees are planted. This garden allows us to enjoy the cherry trees as they change during each season.
- Yanagi Falls (柳の滝). The village of Yanagi is famous for its falls, small and big. They are as wonderful as Ichijo Fall in Fukui City, where the fencer, Kojiro Sasaki, is said to have devised the invincible way of killing a flying swallow called "Tsubame-gaeshi." In particular, Nuno Fall has a beautiful flow like a thin, white cloth. Many visitors enjoy hiking around the falls.
Echizen Washi (paper) crafts - From Imadate village in eastern Echizen City.
Echizen knives - You can buy locally made knives or make your own.