Yes, Obama like the former U.S. President, but there’s more to this coastal town than the name.
Obama is a coastal town situated in Fukui Prefecture, just north of Kyoto. The obvious elephant in the room is, of course, the town of Obama shares its name with former U.S. President Barack Obama.
The locals are well aware of this, and use it to promote local tourism. There are numerous President Obama statues and murals located around town, and you can even find rice crackers, sweets, and t-shirts with his face on them. It’s more than just presidential puns, though. Obama is full of small-town charm, not to mention great seafood.
Things to do in Obama City
Here are the top attractions to see in the area including its best temples and restaurants.
Obama Castle is long gone, but its castle town lives on. Sancho-machi was once Obama’s illustrious red-light district, swelling with inns, brothels, and tea houses. Today, there are more bakeries and cafes, but the Kyoto-style architecture remains. The neighborhood’s history has been beautifully preserved, and if it looks familiar, you might be seeing a little bit of Saitama’s Kawagoe, which is a sister city to Obama.
Obama’s best feature is its temples, the most famous one being Myotsu-ji Temple. It was founded by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, a shogun from the Heian Period. Its hondo (main hall) and pagoda use cypress bark and are designated national treasures.
Beautiful ponds and lush greenery make up most of the temple’s grounds. Myotsu-ji also offers visitors the opportunity to experience ajikan, a form of meditation practiced by followers of Shingon Buddhism.
Since its foundation sometime before 1265, Mantoku-ji Temple has moved from the river to the mountains, switched names three times, and even converted from Tendai Buddhism to Shingon Buddhism. In 1544 it was a refuge for abused women and runaways. Its gorgeous 300-year-old rock garden was designated a “Place of Scenic Beauty” in 1932.
Photo by: Andrea Katsuya
Jingu-ji is a peculiar temple. Shinto-Buddhist syncretism isn’t rare in Japan, but this temple’s architecture is. Early Buddhist temples were symmetrical, but Jingu-ji isn’t. It features three alters so that Buddhist and Shinto gods can be worshipped together. History buffs will remember that Shinto and Buddhism were separated after the Meiji restoration, making this temple a rare treat.
Jingu-ji Temple is also the location for one of the most famous religious festivals in Fukui Prefecture called Omizu Okuri, held annually on March 2. Locals dressed in religious attire draw sacred water from the temple’s well and march with torches lit to a riverbank near Unose Park. The water is poured into a stream that leads to Nara and symbolizes the cities’ ties.
What to eat in Obama
Obama’s seafood is a delicacy, especially saba (mackerel). The town has been exporting saba since the Asuka Period. The best way to try it yourself is to visit the Wakasa Obama Fish Center early in the morning when the fish comes straight from the nearby fish market. There are dozens of shops around the area to choose from, but we recommend Sabar, which serves (you guessed it) saba, but also fairly good coffee.