A few years ago, when a U.S. presidential candidate sharing the same name as this little-known port city in Fukui Prefecture was approaching the last leg of his campaign, the city of Obama was seized in the grip of a powerful fever. It was one akin to the kind that turns ordinary people a little dizzy when they discover a gold seam or oil field beneath the family vegetable plot.

Much of that euphoria has since evaporated. The expected windfall of visitors never quite landed, despite some amused attention from the media. Most of the "I Love Obama" and "Go Obama" posters and T-shirts have been flogged off, placed into storage or spirited away into private collections, along with the town's hastily manufactured portrait eggs and Stars and Stripes serviettes. The Obama-themed rice crackers and red bean pies with the president's face on I glimpsed in the supermarkets had mostly passed their expiration dates.

Formerly the capital of the province of Wakasa — which existed until the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) — this pleasant, sea-facing city's historical credentials were burnished early on when it became one of the ports for the arrival of continental culture. Sadly, the city was one of several locations along this windswept coast where North Korean agents abducted local citizens in the first days of July 1978, an issue that is yet to be resolved.