Obama Onsen – Unzen-shi, Japan - Atlas Obscura
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Unzen-shi, Japan

Obama Onsen

Japan's hottest hot spring has a memorable name. 

Thousands of onsens (hot springs) sizzle throughout Japan, and the hottest one happens to be named Obama. Though the spring’s connection to the 44th American president is purely coincidental (Obama means “little beach” in Japanese, and the onsen was first recorded in 713), kitschy tributes to the man now dot the seaside destination.

A cartoon welcome sign outside the baths features a shirtless Barack Obama lounging in a hot spring, alongside a cut-out companion you can fill in with your face. Dry off after your steam with a Barack Obama towel sold by local vendors, then make yourself presentable and pose next to a life-sized, suit-clad statue of the president outside the town’s tourism office.

But there’s much more to Obama than a homonymous American president. The Hot Foot 105 bath is so-called for being both 105 meters long and 105 degrees Celsius; it’s the longest and the hottest footbath in the country. The Obama hot spring is so powerful that you feel its presence even outside the baths—by say, watching steam rise at a busy intersection, or watching eggs cook in pots on the ground.

As it turns out, the onsen is not the only Japanese locale bearing the Obama name. The city of Obama sits more than 10 hours northeast of the onsen, and has become known throughout Japan for its reverence of the former president. In 2006, the then-Senator even joked on Japanese television about being from the town.