As I mentioned before, I went to multiple places during my Golden Week. Afterwards, I brought photos of my adventures back to work to share with coworkers and students alike. They tended to ooh over pictures of Kibune, aah over shots of Mt. Koya, then… tilt their heads in puzzled confusion.
“Who is that?” they would ask, pointing at a statue of a man giving a speech.
“Well, he was President of the US for eight years…” I’d reply.
They would, inevitably, go, “You went to Obama?! In Fukui? But why?”
Obama can be reached in about two hours from Kyoto Station, perfectly doable as a day trip. There are only a few trains to and from, however, so make sure to plan your itinerary ahead of time.
It’s also pretty pricey. Catching the Thunderbird from Kyoto Station and changing to the local train at Tsuruga will cost 4,090 yen one way. If you don’t mind spending 3+ hours on the train, you can change multiple times from JR Kyoto Station bound for Tsuruga, and it’ll run you 2,590 yen one way. If you do this I’d recommend you plan for an overnight, though.
We opted to pay more and really enjoyed the second half of the ride– the local train from Tsuruga to Obama station. We wound through the countryside, the train chugging along with occasional stops that rose like tiny islands in a sea of rice paddies. We followed the mountains for the majority of it, and it was difficult not to take a ton of pictures!
Obama station is a very small one, with a little waiting area attached to the station so you can sit and watch TV until your ride arrives. There’s a teeny souvenir shop in the waiting area. It mostly offered omiyage of the food variety, along with generic snacks and drinks. We spotted some cookies with Obama’s face on them, but decided against purchasing them.
If you exit the station, there’s a tourist guide to your immediate left. The workers there can rent bicycles to you and offer advice on how to get to various places in town. We were in need of a drink more than direction, however, and made our way down the main drag to a shop for coffee.
Once refreshed, we continued down the shopping street and who did we spot, sitting next to a vending machine? That’s right. The statue of President Obama giving a speech. Considering he’s outside, he’s holding together pretty well. It amused me that, rather than being by the station or near any major attractions, that he’d just be in the middle of town like that.
Follow the road long enough and you’ll find the ocean, along with where everybody appeared to be fishing that day. It was around this point we realized we should probably know where we were going and, upon consulting with Google, decided that checking out Obama Castle Ruins was a good plan.
It was quite a walk, and the Ruins were tucked into the surrounding neighborhood so that we thought it was actually just another temple. We passed by it, consulted our maps, then backtracked. It was quiet, and not very big, but it was pretty enough.
The day was hot, so we had to make a stop at a convenience store, but after that we headed back toward the center of town. On our way, we found a park with a statue and some really pretty wisteria… along with a train?
After bumming around there for a while, we headed back toward the ocean to wander the opposite direction from where we’d gone before. We stopped to admire the mermaid statues, then had a seat to rest in some shade when an old woman stopped to stare at us.
This woman was hunched over, with silver hair tucked into a large, floppy hat. Rather than wearing arm guards, she wore oven mitts to cover her hands and protect them from the sun. She had a shuffling walk; I had the impression she was out doing her daily exercises when she came across the white people in her town.
She stared at us for an uncomfortably long time before saying, in Japanese, “What brings you to Obama city?”
Surprised by her cordial question, I explained it was a gorgeous day out and that we wanted to enjoy the sea. She accepted this, wanted to know where we were from, and was delighted to discover we lived in Kyoto.
“Where were you headed next?” she asked, and I cast around for inspiration.
Remembering that there was a park further along the beach, I mentioned that. She lit up.
“Oh! That park! You know, when I was a little girl, my classmates and I used to march up that hill singing a very traditional song. It’s something I remember even now. Would you like to hear it?”
We exchanged glances and, finding no real way to get out of it, I offered meekly, “Well, we should probably move along since our train is coming soon.”
“Oh, if you’re in a hurry, let’s walk while I sing,” the woman decided.
Helplessly, we stood up and walked next to her.. and she began to sing.
It was indeed a traditional song, and I wish I knew the name or even what it was about completely. But what I recall most was how this woman fearlessly belted out this song while shuffling along, and not a single person nearby so much as looked to see what she was up to. There was very much a feeling of Yep, that’s grandma for you.
She continued until we reached the entrance to the park. At that point, she brought the song to an end and said, “Excuse me for bothering you.”
“No, not at all,” I responded immediately. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
She smiled, bowed several times, and shuffled off on her walk. We watched her go, shrugged at each other, and checked out the park.
This park led up a hill, and while we didn’t explore all of it, there were a couple of paths you could check out. One led to a small cemetery; another led up and around to a road, which I imagine led even further up. At this point, we’d walked around most of the area by Obama station, and decided we’d had enough of it. So, we turned back, and caught our train back to Obama.
There were a couple of other things that happened throughout the day– a sudden parade in the middle of the day on the main drag, for example–that had no explanation. One of my favorite things was the appearance of one of the oddest vending machines I’ve yet to discover in Japan: Potato Boy.
You have to understand, vending machines in Japan require their own blog post entirely. There is far much to get into to include in this travel post. However, know that this was the first time I saw a vending machine with a theme as simple and encompassing as “potatoes”, and it was sitting right outside of a random person’s home in Obama. We wound up theorizing about how safe the food was (given it was sitting under the hot sun with no apparent refrigeration) and how often the residents of the home went out to buy midnight snacks from it.
Overall, if you’re looking for a chance to get out of the city and have a very local experience, Obama is a great place to go. You will admittedly get stared at if you’re painfully foreign like I am, but we got very friendly treatment all the while. (I imagine the stares were more of a “when did Obama get new foreigners?” thing rather than a “oh no, foreigners” deal.)
We spent close to 10,000 yen that day, so it wasn’t nearly as great a deal as going to Mt. Koya from Kyoto was, but I enjoyed the quiet day enough to recommend you give it a shot if you have time.
Have you ever been to Obama–or another place–purely because of a whim?