Thursday, 22 January 2009


On Tuesday, Barack Obama was sworn in as the latest King of America (that's what he actually is, don't believe the lies). And Japan loves Obama. I'm not entirely sure why, but they've taken him to heart more than most public figures. As with all things it probably has something to do with the media portrayal - if the American media are going to continually show him as a cross between Martin Luther King, Elvis and Jesus, then people are going to start believing it.

He's been particularly taken to heart by the people of Obama-shi in Fukui. (Incidentally, there are also two Obama Castles and an Obama Onsen in Japan.) The Obama-shi residents have had some coverage in the international media, and quite a lot back home, mainly for their shameless milking of the fact that the name of their city is coincidentally the name of the new US President. They knew about him when he was still a Senator though, and the Mayor sent him gifts - a letter of introduction, a set of chopsticks, and a home-made DVD about the city. Obama then sent a letter back thanking them. That's how excited they were when he was a Senator, so now that he's the President they've pretty much gone batshit insane.

Obviously they produced novelty Obama Sweets - everything seems to get a line of novelty confectionery these days. But the Mayor has also declared that the 4th of November, the day Obama was elected, will be an annual holiday for the town. And he's also insisted on commissioning a statue of the President that he intends to erect at the entrance to the Town Hall. On the actual Inauguration Day, they partied throughout the day and night. They had hula-girls dancing at the local temple, fireworks, and no doubt anything available to buy would have had "OBAMA '09!" stamped on it.

The second of these t-shirts isn't just about Obama, it reads "Obama and Ozawa are the new leaders", referring to Ozawa Ichiro, the leader of the DPJ and the person who stands to replace Aso as Prime Minister this year. A bit political for an Obama t-shirt, right?

The rest of Japan haven't been slacking off on merchandising either. Ogawa Studios are based in Saitama, and they specialise in hand-made rubber masks of politicians. Rather a limited market for those, right? Your customers are either going to be bank-robbers who want to get rich quick and simultaneously hilariously satirise the Lower House of the Diet, or they're going to be junior politicians who want to cause vaudevillian havoc at the next interplenary session. Well not any more! They sold 2,500 Obama masks since December, and are now having to work round the clock churning out 300 masks a day to meet the demand.

A website called Obamicon allow you to use your own images to create posters like the iconic Obama poster used in the election campaign. (I know this doesn't look Japan-related, but just wait, I'm going to link it in, just wait it'll be awesome.) Some of the funnier ones people have uploaded include:

Japanator have uploaded some anime-themed pictures too, as is their particular wont. (Boom! There you go, I told you I'd link Japan in! See? See?! Yeh.) The best two they've done so far are these:

Obama's speeches are being used as learning-aids for school students. In two months The Speeches Of Barack Obama have sold 400,000 copies. It's a really good idea - I'm sure speeches must be really useful for learning a language. The book is on sale at for £6 (direct link here), and it comes with a CD of all the speeches included, so students can follow along with Obama. It sounds like a great deal for Obama fans even if they're not students.

Nocchi, the hero of a man who dressed up as Obama and flew to America to try and randomly accost him, went to Obama-shi recently and was given a sample tour, a kind of what-you-might-expect-if-you-were-actually-the-President tour. It was shown on TV, and I've posted it below. The clip ends with Nocchi meeting the Mayor, and pledging to do his bit to welcome the real Obama if/when he comes to Japan. Like everything Nocchi does, it's kind of awesome.

There have also been quite a few groups of people speaking out in Japan, hoping that Obama will do something to change their lives. At the end of last year students in Hiroshima asked him to visit and show his support for nuclear disarmament. There hasn't been a US Presidential visit there since before World War 2, so it would be a significant gesture. The letters were backed up by bomb-survivors and school students in the following weeks.

The people of Okinawa have called for Obama to visit them too, and experience the life of those living next to an army base. They cite such problems as the noise of jet fighters taking off throughout the day and night, and grenades going off. Perhaps a stronger complaint would be against the US servicemen who every few months rape a random under-age local Japanese girl and when arrested are merely sent back to America with a dishonourable discharge and no further punishment, despite having ruined someone's life, because they're not subject to actual criminal courts but to the military courts who couldn't care less about crimes that occur half the world away, even if they did ruin someone's life. But if those complaints were voiced (and I'm fairly sure they must have been - there are quite a few ruined lives in Okinawa thanks to the US Forces), the Associated Press sure didn't report them.

I didn't actually want to conclude on a sour note, but it seems to have turned out that way. Hmmm. Well, normal service will resume tomorrow, probably.