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Hokuriku Foreigner Focus 2: American shares his love of Fukui through travel books

The green grounds of Heisenji Hakusan Shrine in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture, are seen in this photo provided by Stephan Bola.

Hokuriku is a region located several hundred kilometers away from Tokyo -- on the coast of the Sea of Japan -- and is essentially made up of three prefectures: Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui. There are no major cities in Hokuriku, but the region offers a rich variety of foods, profound traditions as well as a wide range of famous tourist attractions. The wonders of Hokuriku have not only attracted Japanese people to the region, but foreigners too. There are approximately 37,000 foreigners living in Hokuriku, which is just over 1 percent of the total number of residents in the region (approximately 3 million). This section provides a glimpse into the lives of various foreigners who have based themselves in Hokuriku, and who have integrated themselves within the region.

The cover of Stephan Bola's travel guide to Fukui Prefecture. (Image courtesy of Stephan Bola)

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FUKUI -- An assistant language teacher (ALT) who came here from Indiana in the United States has published with his own money both a Fukui sightseeing guidebook and one describing the culture of western Fukui city.

After the 2011 publication of his guidebook, "Fukui Prefecture," which was written in English and included photos and descriptions of 100 sites such as Hakusan heisenji shrine and the Five Lakes of Mikata, Stephan Andrew Bola received orders for the book from the Fukui Prefectural Government and the Fukui Prefectural Tourist Federation, as well as through Internet retailer Amazon.com, selling over 500 copies.

Andrew's initial encounter with Fukui was a coincidence. In August 2006, Andrew came to Japan to climb Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture and Mount Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, but his suitcase with his gear was accidentally sent to Mexico.

Stephan Bola is seen with his two books, a guide to Fukui Prefecture, left, and a volume on the culture of western Fukui city. (Mainichi)

To kill time at Kansai International Airport until his luggage arrived, he contacted all of his Japanese acquaintances to find someone to spend time with. The only person who could meet with him was Chiharu Tsukakura of the city of Fukui.

Andrew minored in Asian studies at university, and having an interest in history and culture, he spent around one month visiting sightseeing spots in Fukui like Eiheiji temple and the Tojinbo bluffs, as well as participating in local festivals. He says everything he saw, from the fireworks to the festival music to the temples and shrines surrounded by nature, was as he had read in the book "The JAPAN" before coming to the country. He became closer to Tsukakura and in April 2007 they married and began living in Fukui.

Andrew was inspired to write the guidebook by a family trip to the Uriwari waterfalls in the town of Wakasa in the summer of 2008. They got lost but made their way after asking locals for directions. Andrew says it was exciting, like an adventure. Wanting to pass on the experience to the child that Tsukakura was pregnant with, he began writing the book.

Waves crash into the Tojinbo cliffs on Fukui Prefecture's Sea of Japan coast. (Photo courtesy of Stephan Bola)

As he looked up Japanese websites about sightseeing locations, he traveled, collected information and finished the book in 2011.

The Hokuriku region of Japan. (Mainichi)

After publishing he began receiving requests to give speeches and help with attracting foreign tourists. In June this year he was asked by a western Fukui PTA group to give a speech on "what can be learned from a foreigner living in Fukui Prefecture, the happiest prefecture." This led to him writing and publishing, in August last year, "Western Fukui City," a book about the traditional culture of the western part of the city.

Ever curious to explore further, Andrew says his next goal is to write a book about the Miyama district in eastern Fukui.

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