Tōjinbō (東尋坊) is a scenic spot in Fukui Prefecture along the Sea of Japan coast known for its pillarlike joints of pyroxene andesite thrust up twenty-five metres high from the sea. It is part of the Echizen-Kaga Kaigan Quasi-National Park (越前加賀海岸国定公園 Echizen-Kaga Kaigan Kokutei Kōen).
The area of Tōjinbō is located on an 80-metre high plateau named Jingaoka (陣ケ岡) that was formed some 500,000 years ago. The plateau and the surrounding cliffs consist of sedimentary layers of mudstone, sandstone, conglomerate, tuff as well as various types of hard andesite. Andesite erodes at a much slower pace than other sedimentary layers, leaving behind the carved-out pentagonal and hexagonal pillars which are characteristic for the spectacular coastline of Tōjinbō, Oshima Island (雄島), and the Echizen Matsushima islands.
The cliffs of Tojinbo with O Island (雄島 Oshima) visible in the distance
Legend has it that the name "Tōjinbō" derives from a monk who lived at Heisen-ji (平泉寺), then a Buddhist Tendai temple in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture, and who found his death by falling off the cliffs. While one story claims that he died in 1182 at the hands of other monks who - despising him - lured the intoxicated Tōjinbō to the edge of the cliffs and threw him into the sea, another story has a more romantic twist: while visiting Mikuni, Tōjinbō fell in love with a beautiful lady by the name of Princess Aya (あや姫). A rival who competed for Aya's affection arranged for a jolly get-together near the cliffs and had the unfortunate monk pushed to his premature demise. Whichever story is true, it is said that the cliffs are still haunted by the wrathful spirit of Tōjinbō.
Tōjinbō character in one of the many restaurants on the approach to the cliffs
Many seafood restaurants and souvenir shops line the streets that lead to the cliffs. Local specialities include shrimp, cuttlefish, abalone, scallops, and, in winter, the coveted Echizen crab. The 55-metre tall Tōjinbō Tower is located next to the restaurant area. It was opened in 1964 and has a platform about 100 metres above sea level. Though the cliffs cannot be seen from the platform, the tower offers a magnificent panoramic view of the Echizen coastline. On clear days, Mount Haku (白山 Hakusan, 2,702 metres) in Ishikawa Prefecture is visible in the east.
Tōjinbō Tower and a statue of his monkish namesake
O Island (雄島 Oshima): this small island is located northwest of the Tōjinbō cliffs and can be reached by crossing a 225-metre long red bridge. The local shrine is dedicated to the souls of those whose bodies were washed ashore after taking their lives by jumping over the cliffs.
Sadly, Tōjinbō is not only famous for its stunning views but also for being one of Japan’s "suicide hot spots". A local NGO headed by retired policeman Yukio Shige patrols the coastline trying to prevent suicides. So far, they claim to have saved the lives of 609 people (see the two articles linked below).
Tōjinbō Yuransen Sightseeing Boats
- Tōjinbō Yuransen Cruises (in Japanese)
- Tōjinbō Tower (in Japanese)
- At Japan’s suicide cliffs, he's walked more than 600 people back from the edge - Los Angeles Times
- Japan’s suicide-catcher Yukio Shige saves 500 lives in 11 years - Daily Mail Online
By train from Fukui Station on Echizen Railway (Mikuni Awara Line) to Mikuniminato Station, the terminal station. From there, by bus to Tōjinbō. The bus departs every hour (one way 190 JPY, five minutes ride from Mikuniminato). From Kanazawa Station to Awara Onsen Station (JR Hokuriku Line, JR Shirasagi Line, JR Thunderbird), from there by bus (once an hour, 40-minute ride).
Tōjinbō Tower: open daily from 09:00-17:00; 500 JPY (adults), 300 JPY (children), group discount for more than 20 people.
Tōjinbō Yuransen Sightseeing Boats: 30-minute tours, April-October 09:00-16:00, November-March 09:00-15:30; closed December 29-31 and public holidays; 1,400 JPY (adults, junior high-school students), 700 JPY (children), discounts for groups over 2o people and disabled persons.