Obama, Japan: The City that Bears the Name of A Former US President

One of the most interesting countries to visit in the world is none other than Japan. Also known as the Land of the Sun, the country has many places to offer to foreign visitors. Japan experiences four different seasons and each season, the country houses cities and towns that offer picturesque views. Among the many interesting cities that are located in Japan is the city of Obama. It is most famous for bearing the surname of the former President of the United States of America Barack Obama.

Obama City, Fukui, Japan: History, Education, and Traditions


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More commonly known as Obama-shi in Japanese, the city of Obama is located in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. The city Wakasa Bay, which is to the north of Kyoto. Traveling from Tokyo to Obama by train takes about four to seven hours. With a total area of 232.85 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 89.90 square miles, the city of Obama has an estimated population of 29,213 as of the 1st of April in the year 2017. As a result, the city has a population density of 130 persons per square kilometer, which is equivalent to 320 persons per square mile.

The city gained publicity in America and in other places as well in the year 2008. This can be attributed to the city bearing the surname of then-senator Barack Obama. At the time, the man was running for the presidency in the United States. He eventually won the race and became the President of the United States of America.

With the coordinates of 35°30′North and 135°45′East, the city of Obama is located in the Chubu (Hokiriku) region. The city is under the governance of Mayor Toshio Murakami. Its city hall address is 6-3 Ote-machi, Obama-shi, Fukui-ken 917-8585. The Japanese term “obama” translates to “little beach” in English.

To give a brief history, the city of Obama used to be the capital of the province of Wakasa during the Ritsuryo period. The province served as one of the entrances of continental culture. Several temples located in Obama are associated with the Yamato Dynasty. Furthermore, the city of Obama is also sometimes known as “Nara by the sea.” Come the Edo period, Obama served as the capital of the Obama Domain. The city also served as the starting point of the Mackerel Roar leading to Kyoto.

Due to its location, the area was also greatly influenced by Chinese culture for a long time. This was because travelers frequently passed through Obama when they travel between Kyoto and China. As a result, several houses and buildings located in the Sancho-machi area were designed with Chinese influence and style.

The area of Obama officially gained city status on the 30th of March in the year 1951 even though there were already inhabitants in the area centuries prior. The city was also among the locations where a number of Japanese citizens were kidnapped by agents from North Korea on the 7th of July in the year 1978.

The main industry of the city used to be solely just fishing. However, in recent years, the city has also obtained primary support from its tourism industry. Some notable products produced in Obama include Wakasa lacquered chopsticks, agate accessories, and other crafts. A university known as Fukui Prefectural University is situated in Obama. It only began to operate in the year 1992.

Within a short period of time, its Research Center for Marine Bioresources has become notable for its research of preservation and in many fields. These fields include fish embryogenesis, fish disease, aquaculture stock enhancement, and microalgal bloom. The university also consists of a number of schools or faculties, including Economics, Arts and Sciences, Nursing, Biotechnology, and a lot more. On the other hand, the Obama Community Hospital conducts medical research. The Wakasa branch of the Fukui Prefectural Library is also situated in Obama.

One of the many traditions of the city of Obama is holding the Omizu-okuri Festival, also known as the Water Carrying Festival. Held every 2nd of March, the tradition is to draw water from the Onyu River and present it to the primary or principal image of the temple. The origin of this tradition goes back to at least 1,200 years ago. One can also visit the Myotsu-ji Temple and the Karesansui Garden while in the area.

A local tourist attraction in the area is the Wakasa Historical and Folk Museum. It is maintained in a big and modern facility. Among its many displays include several artifacts from the Jomon period such as the vital Torihama shell mound in the area. The city also serves as the home of a working Zen monastery known as Hosshinji.

JR West Obama Line serves Obama Station, Kato Station, Shin-Hirano Station, Higashi-Obama Station, and Seihama Station. Other transportation infrastructures connected to Obama include Japan National Route 27, Japan National Route 162, Fukui Prefectural Route 35, and Obama Nishi Interchange, which is the terminus of the Maizuru-Wakasa Expressway.

The City’s Association to Former POTUS Barack Obama

The city of Obama gained fame when former POTUS Barack Obama visited Japan. At the time, he was still a senator who gave an interview to TBS, which was a Japanese television network, in the year 2006. In the interview, he told the story of his arrival in Japan and his passing through customs in Narita Airport. His visa was inspected by the official and the latter noted that the senator must be from the city of Obama.

It was an interesting interview that caught the attention of the people at the Obama City Hall. Later on, Mayor Toshio Murakami sent gifts to Senator Obama. These gifts included a set of the famous lacquer chopsticks produced in the city as well as a DVD containing information about the city that bears the name of the senator. Along with these gifts was a letter than wished the senator the best in his endeavors.

Local businessmen in the city of Obama started to organize parties and produce products in support of Senator Obama as his presidential campaign progressed. The efforts of the city did not go unnoticed. Senator Obama thanked the locals for their gifts as well as their support for him. It is also quite interesting to note that there are actually Japanese people who bear the surname Obama.

Senator Barack Obama eventually won the presidential race in the year 2008. The city of Obama and its people celebrated his win and even held an inauguration on the same day that Barack Obama was sworn into office. POTUS Obama also acknowledged his association with the city of Obama on the 14th of November in the year 2009. He mentioned the city, as well as its citizens, in his speech given at Suntory Hall located in Tokyo.

Traditional Arts and Crafts in Obama, Fukui 

By Orin Zebest from San Francisco, CA, USA (Sake, Chopsticks, Paper Rest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many traditional arts and crafts that are famous in Obama. First on the list is Wakasa agate crafts. Obama is especially famous for these. Translucent, Wakasa agate is typically colored red and contains a beautiful luster. The vibrant color of the Wakasa agate is attained by burning a rough stone of agate. The characteristic luster of the stone is attained by carefully polishing the considerably rough stone with sand. In general, agate is made into incense burners, jewelry, carved ornaments, and drinking cups.

Second on the list is Wakasa Japanese paper. Made with Japanese trees that are carefully selected, Wakasa Japanese paper is also quite popular among the locals. It is made with the beautiful water of Obama, which plays a vital role in making this kind of Japanese paper. With a beautiful color, the texture of Wakasa Japanese paper is considerably strong. Popular souvenirs using this type of paper include beautifully dyed craft paper, stationery, and paper dolls.

Third on the list is Wakasa clay tiles. These are made by firing them in a special kiln known as Daruma-gama in Japanese. Made of high-quality clay, these tiles typically contain fewer cracks. Moreover, they are usually glossier in comparison to other clays. This type of clay is utilized to produce roof tiles, interior decorations, and ornaments.

Fourth on the list is Wakasa lacquerware. With about 400 years of history, Wakasa-nuri is recognized as an elegant lacquerware. This lacquerware is highly valued because of its elegance as well as its high quality. The base is made by using pine needles and cypress. It is then covered by color lacquer after placing the seashells and eggshells. The surface is burnished by the craftsman until the design emerges. It takes a long period of time and expertise in order to create and finish this product. Hence, they are quite well-known as luxury souvenirs.

Last but certainly not the least are Wakasa lacquered chopsticks. These are probably the most famous souvenirs in Obama. Almost 80 percent of all lacquered chopsticks in the country are made and produced in Obama. The process of making these chopsticks are tedious and takes a long period of time as well as expertise. They are recognized as luxury items to be gifted to important people.

Places to Visit in Obama City

kiwa dokokano [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There are also many places that one can visit when in the city of Obama. First on the list is the Sanchomachi District. It consists of several old houses and buildings. Situated just a kilometer west of JR Obama Station, the district is very accessible to the public. It used to be a red-light district. At present, there are a number of Japanese restaurants in the area that feature Geisha girls. What makes this district attractive is its preservation of its historic streets. Geisha girls singing in restaurants can also sometimes be heard while walking along the street.

Second on the list would be Myorakuji Temple. A Buddhist temple, it is situated around 2.5 kilometers south of Obama Station. Though not confirmed, many say that the temple was founded in the year 718. The main hall of the temple was constructed in the year 1392. It contains some pictures, buildings, and an enshrined old wooden Buddha statue that are registered as cultural properties not just of the city but also of the prefecture.

Another temple to check out would be Enshoji Temple. Also a Buddhist temple, it is situated around a kilometer west of Myorakuji Temple. Though not confirmed, many say that this temple was founded in the 640s. Designated as National Important Cultural Properties, the wooden Buddha statues in this temple were made in the 13th to the 14th century. It also features a Japanese garden, which was constructed in the early parts of the 17th century. Forest green tree frogs can be found in this garden.

Fourth on the list is Jinguuji Temple. Also a Buddhist temple, it is situated around 5 kilometers southeast of Obama Station. Founded in the year 714, this temple is associated with Shinto shrine. It also serves as the central temple in the area. Its gate known as Niomon Gate was constructed in the year 1332. On the other hand, its main temple was reconstructed in the year 1553. Both structures have been recognized and designated as National Important Cultural Properties.

Fifth on the list is the Unose riverside. It is situated around 2 kilometers south of Jinguuji Temple. Each time that the Omizu-okuri is held, the sacred water that is used in the festival is poured into the river at this point. Many say that the water poured from this place would reach Todaiji Temple located in Nara after a number of days. The water in this river is said to be tasty and many people actually drink it.

There are, of course, still other places to check out in Obama such as Mantokuji Temple, Myotsuji Temple, Kokubunji Temple, Hagaji Temple, and Sotomo Coast. All of these places offer something special to visitors. It would be highly recommended to visit all of them in order to fully experience the beauty of the city of Obama.