When you get off the train at Hakui Station you might at first think this place is a bit of a joke. At the platform, in the station building, on the streets, anywhere you look you'll see depictions of aliens and UFOs. Apparently more UFO sightings are reported around Hakui than anywhere else in Japan, and you will know. But if you're interested in the more serious aspects of space exploration, Hakui also has you covered!
Opened in 1996 in an appropriately UFO-shaped building, the Cosmo Isle Hakui Space and UFOs Museum houses a surprisingly impressive collection of spacecraft and memorabilia. What sets it apart from similar museums in Japan is that the exhibits being showcased aren't scale models, but are all actual size and to varying degrees of authenticity. When it comes to authenticity, the objects from the former Soviet Union take the cake with a Vostok capsule that has actually been in space, and a Molniya communications satellite and LUNA 24 lunar lander that both served as backups for their respective missions. On the American side there's a real Mercury Redstone Rocket outside of the museum which can be seen from afar, and quite a number of faithful reproductions (for some part made from authentic components) including a Mercury capsule, the Command Module and Lunar Module from the Apollo program, and a Viking Mars lander. Also worth mentioning is a NASA prototype for a Lunar/Mars Rover that's on a 100(!) year loan from the Johnson Space Center. A variety of smaller objects is also on display, including several space suits, a few rocket engines, samples of lunar soil, and a piece of a meteorite.
But considering we're in the UFO capital of Japan, unsurprisingly there are also a lot of photographs of UFO sightings, and two booths in which you can learn more about investigations of UFOs and the search for extraterrestrial life. And what would a UFO museum be without a Rosswell alien? The museum also has an extensive library with books, videotapes, and a lot of random space-related stuff, unfortunately this isn't open to museum visitors. And finally, you can get your picture taken on a reproduction of a Lunar Roving Vehicle, and find some nice souvenirs at the museum shop.
Most of the exhibits have pretty good English information, pamphlets are available for several other languages. For an additional fee, you can also visit the Cosmo Theater, with a dome-shaped screen for full 360-degree immersion. Usually, two films of about half an hour each are being alternated on an hourly basis, and the program is changed regularly. And if after all of this you're still not spaced-out, just outside the museum is the JEM Shop for even more souvenirs, a drink or a snack.
Hakui Station is on the JR Nanao Line, and can be reached from Kanazawa in about an hour for JPY 830. The museum is a 10 minute walk from the East exit of the station, and can be seen from afar. When visiting by car, there's plenty of free parking space right next to the museum.
The website of the museum is in Japanese only, but they have an English brochure available for download.
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Unfortunately living far away from Japan in The Netherlands, ever since my first visit to Japan in 2008 the country has become a bit of an obsession to me. As of 2020, I've visited Japan 16 times (and actually have been to a few other countries also!), but there's still so much more to discover! I love matsuri, Japanese food (including the weird stuff....), anything concerning railways, cars, anime and manga, but also just all of the little surprises Japan has to offer.