Yes, you can buy Obama-manju. Photo: Zoria Petkoska
travel

Can Fukui’s Obama City draw visitors with rural tourism alone?

4 Comments
By Aaron Baggett

It’s not looking good for rural Japan. The population will decline to just 88 million by 2065. Villages and towns are disappearing as young people move to live and work in big cities, leaving their homes behind with an aging population. The government has been trying to help by offering tourists alternative rustic or traditional experiences outside Japan’s golden triangle, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

I recently visited Obama in the Kansai Region’s Fukui Prefecture to see firsthand what rural Japan can offer. It’s one of Japan’s countryside towns vying for a slice of the tourism pie, and recently dialed its efforts to 11 by promoting their history, culture, and the kinds of activities visitors aren’t likely to find if they stick to typical “Top 10” destinations.

What’s in a name?

Obama-Statue-in-fukui-Japan.jpg
Photo: Sarah Marchildon

Obama means “little beach.” You might have noticed it also happens to be the name of 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. During Barack Obama’s presidency, the town of about 30,000 capitalized on the coincidence with President Obama themed souvenirs such as rice crackers, manju, and “I love Obama” t-shirts.

They expected a tourism boom—quickly erecting crude statues and painting murals of the president around town.

Today, the hype of sharing a name with the president has long passed. You can still find a handful of presidential themed souvenirs in the town’s information center, and the only statue of the president that I could find looked like it stepped out of the ‘80s claymation cartoon "Gumby."

That left me asking what is there in Obama besides… President Obama?

The Saba Kaido

Obama’s economy largely depends on commercial fishing. Particularly saba (mackerel), the town’s specialty. Saba is everywhere. Pre-packaged, raw, cooked, on posters, on billboards, on television, in museums— there’s even an official anime-girl mascot named saba-chan.

Saba has been sustaining Obama since at least the Nara Period (710-794) when traders would run as fast as possible from Obama to Kyoto with loads of raw mackerel and salt strapped to their back before it could go bad.

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4 Comments
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I think tourism is a pretty short-term and fragile way to support an economy, as this pandemic is showing. I bet there are 1,000's of young people crushed into packed trains in Tokyo who would love to live somewhere more rural and cheaper. They need to start lobbying for companies to let their people work remotely and live away from the office. Although I guess it's pretty limited to what a small local government can do in this regard. I fear it will take a huge disaster for the overcrowding of Tokyo to end.

If they are going to stick with tourism, I recommend at least making a model that actually looks like Obama.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It’s not looking good for rural Japan. The population will decline to just 88 million by 2065.

That's the optomistic number. there are those who think that the decline will be much more pronounced.

Villages and towns are disappearing as young people move to live and work in big cities, leaving their homes behind with an aging population.

They could attract people from the major cities by offering them free akiya and help them find jobs

The government has been trying to help by offering tourists alternative rustic or traditional experiences outside Japan’s golden triangle, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

How about getting rid of the STUPID Highway toll which makes it extremely expensive to travel anywhere so people can afford to travel to those remote locations

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So dumb and on so many levels

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Regarding the future population concern, please don't forget . . . there are many people of Japanese ethnicity and descent in other parts of the world, who are considered Japanese, and who are interested in living in Japan

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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