The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

imgp0491I had promised to write more about my recent trip to Japan, and specifically the museums there. I have now had enough time to at least make a start and here is the first of what I hope will be several posts on most dinosaur centric museum in Asia, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. For those that don’t know (and before I got there, I didn’t) the name is doubly confusing as although the museum is in the Fukui prefecture, it’s not in Fukui city, being in the adjacent town of Katsuyama (though this is only a few kilometres away). The museum only opened in 2000 and must therefore rank as one of the more recent and modern natural history museums in the world, and as its name suggests it is largely devoted to dinosaurs.

imgp0879Japan is not known for it’s abundant dinosaur remains, although there are a number of localities that have yielded theropods, suaropods and ornithopods with the most notable being that it Katsuyama that is very close to the museum and yielded both Fukuirtaptor, Fukuisaurus and most recently, some sauropod remains. Indeed the region is incredibly proud of their fossils and dinosaur signs and souvenirs abound (the road between Fukui and Katsuyama is called ‘Dinosaur Road’). Sadly the weather made it impossible to visit the site, so this post will be devoted to the museum. I hope to get permission from the museum director to publish some behind-the-scenes shots and close-ups, but till then you will have to be satisfied with general photos of the galleries.

imgp0792Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the museum, not just for its superb dinosaur collections (both on display and in storage) and modern design, but the content, layout, design and all those little details of museum making that are easy to overlook were well done (check out the manhole covers!). From the outside it basically appears as a giant silver dome with a glass spire, and in the grounds are numerous life models provided by the local authorities (featured here). There are basically three floor based around a single large gallery that contains the dinosaurs, with below a very quick introduction to fossils and above an extensive balcony that looks out over the main hall and contains a ‘history of life’ section, covers the other reptiles of the Mesozoic, and a surprisingly comprehensive section on mammals. However, it is the main hall that I will devote this post to since it covers what we are primarily interested in and my photos of the top floor were pretty poor sadly.

imgp0775Coming into the hall through the middle one enters a display on the Earth’s processes and geology, surrounded by the tools of a palaeontologists trade and a description of how fossils are collected and prepared etc. Behind this in a central ecology section covering growth, feeding, behaviour, reproduction and so on. This includes some really nice displays such as different humeri of Maiasaurus at different ages, a large display of teeth and skulls, and casts of the famous fighting dinosaurs, and a nesting oviratorosaur on a nest of eggs. Around the rear edge of the hall is a series of displays on the local dinosaurs and the material that has been discovered and the associated research carried out by the museum. At the rear centre are a number of animatronic life reconstructions of various Asia dinosaurs including Gasosaurs, Shunosaurus and Mamenchisaurus, all set to a very nice mural and with sound effects and a video display of life in the Mesozoic.

imgp0798What dominates the hall however are the dinosaur mounts, with the saurischians on the left and ornithischians on the right. I should say at this point that I have never been to any of the great ‘classic’ museums like the AMNH or field museum, and while the NHM in London has some fantastic mounts, and of course the Humboldt in Berlin has and incredible dinosaur hall, this was the first time I had seen so many dinosaurs of such a huge range in one place. I counted over 30 complete skeletons, plus other casts of famous skeletons and fossils (like the fighting dinosaurs, and reconstructions of a growth series for Psittacosaurus), it’s a wonderful collection.

I won’t just list all the genera on display as that would be quite dull, but I will mention some of the highlights. One thing that is nice is that the various clades are grouped together and it does make it fascinating to be able to compare closely related species, and the layout of the hall is such that you can see most skeletons from several angles, including above which really helps you to appreciate them. Each came with a brief panel of key characteristics (age, location, family, size etc.) and an excellent miniature life reconstruction.imgp0573

I especially enjoyed seeing Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus mounted together, a cast of Eoraptor and skeletal reconstruction of it, three very different ceratopsians in a row, a complete and very, very large Saurolophus, two species of Ignanodon together, and my first (in museum terms) ankylosaur and pachycephalosaur. It really makes a big difference to see a whole animal and not just seeing photos and drawings of separated bones, and helps put things together in your mind and have a much better appreciation of them and put them in context of each other and between specimens. There is also a second rex mount (of a different specimen I believe) in a separate hall that is surrounded with multiple balconies and stairwells so that one can see it at a huge number of angles and positions and makes for an excellent exhibit to really show off the scale of the animal and get you really close to it, as well as seeing it in new ways (such as right over the skull).

imgp0811The museum deliberately focuses on Asian dinosaurs and obviously they therefore dominate the hall in terms of numbers, but not at the expense of famous or important species (like Tyrannosaurus) or interesting animals (like Ouranosuaurs). The vast majority of the material are made up of casts, but there were some originals on display and more in the collections, primarily from North America, where of course things like a complete Chasmosaurs can be purchased, and its export will not impinge on scientific knowledge (since there are lots of them).

imgp0783I’ll leave it there for now, and hope to include some more details later in a follow-up if I get permission to publish my other photos. In short, this is a brilliantly designed and laid out museum, with excellent displays and exhibits with a mixture of detail and clarity that make it accessible and interesting to people of any age and knowledge base. I really can’t recommend it enough, and if you really like dinosaurs, you simply have to go at some point.

13 Responses to “The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum”

  1. 1 Alessio 06/03/2009 at 8:08 am

    Really good museum…I’d like to visit it someday 😉

  2. 2 Jocelyn 21/03/2009 at 10:35 am

    An extraordinary museum! I’ve been twice. It’s really wonderful that they have everything in English as well as Japanese.

  3. 3 mick 26/10/2009 at 3:14 am

    Wow, Is there a meuseum in England or france that also have dinasaur fossill displays

  4. 5 maral 16/05/2010 at 4:51 pm

    dear sir
    I found some dinosaur bone neare the river of iran
    if you want them , please contact with me.

    • 6 David Hone 16/05/2010 at 7:52 pm

      The best thing to do would be to take some photos and e-mail them to me or post them on my Ask A Biologist site.

      dwe_hone AT


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  3. 3 Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 14/04/2009 at 8:14 am
  4. 4 All dinosaur museums should have these « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 15/05/2009 at 10:23 pm
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