Japan’s hottest new tourist destination: Obama

Known for fishing and handmade chopsticks, a Japanese village celebrates sharing a name with the next US president.

Itsuo Inouye/AP
Residents of Obama, Japan celebrate as it is announced on television that Barack Obama has been elected the President of the United States on Wednesday.

Obama, the Japanese town, welcomed US presidential candidate Barack Obama’s victory Wednesday with a show of elation. The citizens of this sleepy fishing port clapped and cheered news of the Democrat’s seizure of the White House.

But for many, the enthusiasm had more to do with the prospect of putting their city in the limelight, which is likely to mean greater prosperity as a tourist destination.

“We started this as a joke,” said Yasunori Maeno of the “Obama for Obama” campaign he helped organize. “But as we came to know more about him ... and his emphasis on community, the more we liked him. It is important to love the place you are from and to work to promote it.”

Hisao Akao, a local tire salesman, agreed that his town has been won over by the next US president. “Obama talked about creating a world without discrimination where everyone can use his talents,” he said. “By supporting him our attitudes have changed here.”

On Wednesday morning, local time, the talent on display at Obama’s civic hall, where four ceiling-mounted TVs broadcast CNN election coverage (in English), included Mr. Akao’s troupe of dancers, wearing brightly colored shirts and adorned with leis, swaying to the Hawaiian rhythms they had learned in honor of Mr. Obama’s Hawaiian upbringing.

Also enlivening the atmosphere was the “Anyones Brothers Band,” enthusiastically lip-synching to the song they hope will be their first hit, “Obama Beautiful World.”

Mia Yoshida, one of the 190 Filipinos to have migrated to this remote and beautiful stretch of Japan’s western coast, was clapping along, she explained, because she hoped that “as the first black president, Obama will make a difference: Somehow whites and blacks will unite and cooperate.”

Kazuo Yasuda, head of the town’s international exchange office, which has so far had little to do, was more pragmatic. “This could help boost Obama’s economy and make us known to the world,” he said. “I really appreciate Obama’s victory.”

“This has been a good opportunity for people in our city ... to think about our city ... how to boost the local economy,” added Koji Matsuzaki, the mayor, who said he would be sending a letter of congratulations to Obama, to whom he had already sent a pair of lacquered chopsticks, a local handicraft.

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