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Locating Obama


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POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2009

OBAMA, Japan » If you're looking for an escape from the concrete jungle and crowded streets and sidewalks of Tokyo or Osaka, the city of Obama is just a train ride away in the southwest portion of Fukui prefecture. The city that prides itself on sharing the name of our 44th president is nestled between the Ryohaku Mountains to the south and Wakasa Bay to the north. Just getting there is a scenic journey of small towns, farmlands and tree-covered mountains.

               

     

 

IF YOU GO ...

       

Visiting Obama, Japan

        » From Tokyo: Approximately 4 1/2 hours by train. At the JR Tokyo Station take the Hikari Tokaido Shinkansen to the Maibara Station. Transfer to the Express Shirasagi train on the Hokuriku Line to Tsuruga Station. Transfer to the Obama Line and get off at the Obama Station.
       

» From Osaka: Approximately three hours by train. At the JR Osaka Station, take the Express Raicho/Thunderbird/Special Rapid Service to Tsuruga Station. Transfer to the Obama Line and get off at the Obama Station.

       

For more information on festivals, history and transportation, visit the Obama city Web sites:

       

» www1.city.obama.fukui.jp/english (in English)

       

» www.wakasa-obama.jp (in Japanese)

       

 

       

Once you leave the station, you might feel like you entered a ghost town. Despite the population of 33,000, the streets are eerily empty of cars and people. Don't be alarmed, though. There are plenty of things to do to keep you occupied for a couple of days.

Obama is a small city that can be easily navigated on foot. As it covers less than a square mile, you can walk from one end to the other at a leisurely pace in about an hour. But if you're short on time or just want to cover more area faster, you can also rent a bike at the tourist information center just outside the Obama train station.

Fresh fish is one thing you can count on in Obama. The city was first established as a fishing town in 710 during the Nara period and was the starting point of what was known as the Saba Kaido (Mackerel Road) that served as the fishermen's gateway to Kyoto, Japan's former capital before it was moved to Edo (now Tokyo) in 1868. While other larger cities have taken over the fishing trade, fresh fish is still a commodity in this city on the bay.

At Miyabi restaurant, across the street from the Tsubasa Terrace Lookout and a stone's throw away from Obama Park, you'll find fresh fish, tempura, sushi, combination plates and a wide assortment of dishes to choose from to satisfy any seafood lover. It also has the nicest pair of hashi (chopsticks) I have ever seen at a Japanese restaurant. What else would you expect from a Japanese restaurant in the city that produces 80 percent of all the lacquered hashi in Japan?

Many of the hashi manufacturers are small family shops located in the Nishizu area, a short 30-minute walk north from the Obama station. At Hashi Minomoto, the Honmura family has been making hashi by hand for more than 30 years. When you enter the shop, you'll find more than 70 different styles and colors on display with prices ranging from 370 to 2,000 yen ($4 to $22 at the current exchange rate).

In the room behind the store, you'll find racks filled with freshly decorated hashi setting out to dry while several workers paint, screen-print and put the final touches on more creations. If there are only a couple of you, they'll welcome you into the back room to watch them up close rather than through the glass window. These aren't the same wooden chopsticks you get at Zippy's. You'll gain a new appreciation for these handmade eating utensils. Some of them take as long as 30 days to create. The Honmuras estimate that they make more than 10,000 pairs of hashi a month.