Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Obama for Obama

On a "light" side, I did find this story interesting:

OBAMA, Japan (CNN) — At a small bakery in a fishing village in western Japan, the ovens are on overdrive Tuesday.

"Tomorrow's the big event," said Koichi Inoue, steam rising from his freshly baked sweet "manju" treats. "We want Obama to win."

Inoue holds up a manju, his prized treat this year. Emblazoned on the front is a caricature of presidential candidate Barack Obama, with the phrase: "I (heart) Obama."

The fanatical support of this isolated town of 32,000 residents seems most unlikely until you learn its name: Obama, Japan. And this town is supporting its namesake with the sort of gusto you'd expect only from a proud town cheering on its favorite son, even though the candidate has never been here and the residents have only seen him on television.

As the U.S. primary vote returns come in Wednesday in Japan, the self-proclaimed "Unofficial Supporters of Obama" are planning a party with all the Obama fixings it can muster.

The club says up to 100 of its members are gathering in their celebration kimonos to watch American news coverage. For entertainment, members who are also local hula girls have created a dance in honor of the man who might be the next U.S. president.

Special sushi, hamburgers, and pork fillets, all made in honor of Barack Obama, are on the menu. And while their opinions won't matter when it comes to votes, they remain determined to send well wishes half-way around the world.

"I love Obama!" said Tatsyuyki Funai, the president of Funai Works Co, a lacquer chopsticks maker. He showed us his special "Obama" chopsticks he'd love to send to Barack Obama.

A pair of the city's chopsticks did go to the senator. Mayor Toshio Murakami sent a set of Obama's signature lacquer chopsticks a year ago, in honor of Barack Obama's birthday, which falls on "Chopstick Day."

He didn't hear from the senator until a week ago, but says he doesn't really mind the delay because the accompanying letter, he says, was so kind.

"Here," said Murakami, pointing to Barack Obama's signature on the letter, now an official city 'treasure.' Above it were the words, "Your friend," in Japanese. "It's very elegant and I'm honored to get this during a busy political season."

In the letter, the senator wrote to the mayor, "As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, it is exciting to hear that you are engaged in debates that reach beyond your shores. We share more than a common name."

Alcillena Wilson, an American teaching English in Obama, Japan, was surprised to learn how engaged her neighbors were in U.S. politics, thanks to the simple accident of sharing a name with a candidate.

"Many Americans have never heard of Obama the city, Japan. I'm sure we've all heard of Tokyo and Osaka and Kyoto. So it's a way to open up the means of communication and learn about each other. And I think it's great."

For Koichi Inoue, the bakery owner prepping those special manju treats for the Obama party, the connection means more than just a quirky coincidence.

"Obama is an old town and needs a second wind. Maybe this is exactly the new
spirit our town needs."

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