Obama - A Town in Japan That Banks on Barack
Obama is a name shared by a certain American senator and a Japanese seaside town, a fact not lost on city public relations boosters who realize that the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign could be the biggest thing to happen to Obama since... well, since ever!
Japanese society is in the midst of a crisis caused by an aging population and compounded by the lure of Tokyo, arguably the world's largest metropolitan area. Young people in rural provinces are leaving their burgs in the boondocks for the bright lights (and job opportunities) of the big city.
Efforts by local governments to raise their profiles, create new jobs and attract tourists usually focus on touting unique regional foods - jellyfish ice cream, wasp crackers and black garlic chocolates among them.
Obama (population 34,000) is different: they're playing the name game for all its worth and by doing so, are saving Japan and the wider world from yet another wacky snack fit only for blog fodder.
The rise of Barack Obama has at the very least saved us from mackerel-flavored ice cream, though bakeries in the town flog "manju" (sweet red bean pastries) stamped with "I Love Obama" and a caricature of the Senator's face.
Non-perishable products the town of Obama is noted for include fine lacquered chopsticks, a pair of which were sent to Senator Obama by the mayor of Obama. The Senator's reply: "I look forward to a future marked by the continued friendship of our two great nations and a shared commitment to a better, freer world." Crank up the t-shirt presses!
The latest manifestation of Obama-boosting comes courtesy of the so-called "Obama Girls", a troupe of hula dancers from Obama, Japan who have journeyed to Hawaii to compete in a dance contest.
Barack Obama was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, so do the Obama Girls (no connection with the "Obama Girl" phenomenon) have some ulterior motive? You betcha...
"It will be our honor to dance in Mr. Obama's hometown," enthused 35-year-old team leader Chikako Shimizu. "We will brush up our performance, hoping that one day we will dance before Mr. Obama as he becomes president."
The girls may yet have their chance - Barack Obama seems delighted with the attention his last name is getting from Japan and he's indicated a visit to the town would be in order once a few other things - like winning the presidency - have been taken care of.
J A P A N O R A M A