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Why Does Japan Love Barack Obama?

Updated on February 23, 2018
SgtCecil profile image

I am an expat living in Japan. Everyday is an adventure and a blessing. Here are some of my experiences

Because he's cool!

US President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe honor service members killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
US President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe honor service members killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 | Source

Barack Obama's campaign back in 2008 and his following presidency fired up Japan. The "Yes We Can" that brought optimism to many Americans also took hold of the Japanese people. No Japanese politician has been able to match it since. Here's why.

"I can't explain it. He's just different," is what my girlfriend told me when I asked her why she liked President Obama. Not long ago there was a story about him on a Japanese morning TV show about being cool or something. I guess it was a slow week.

When I asked her about Presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton she swiftly told me "No." Those two were pretty much the same to her. Soon after, I asked many of my Japanese friends how they felt about President Obama. Their response was the same. They like him. He's cool. He's different from all the others.

What makes him so different? What makes him so cool?

How do they do it in Japan? It's pretty tame

To understand why President Obama is so popular in Japan it's important to know how Japan selects its prime minister (there is no Japanese "president"). I'll make it quick.

The prime minister of Japan is selected by the National Diet (or Japanese parliament) in a complicated process. The members of the Diet are elected by the people. If a person wants to become prime minister he needs the Diet members to select him, not the people. In other words, the average tax-paying citizen is left out.

While this is similar to how prime ministers are selected in other countries, it's not the same beauty pageant that America uses when it elects its president.

This is unfortunate because Japanese people are so good at making the right choices.

Hope! Change! Yes We Can!

Considering the way the prime minister is selected in Japan, wouldn't every single post-war US president have the same appeal? After all, every US president has promises something new, different and better for the people. What is this "something" that Japan sees in President Obama?

It was Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign that woke up many Japanese. In the US "Change we can believe in" was a promise to reject the war profiteering and corruption. It was also seen as a promise to restore civil rights that were lost with the PATRIOT Act. Whether either of these promises are kept is anyone's guess.

His "Yes We Can" was his way of making it happen. We were all in this together and together we would win. No more cronyism, no lobbyists making backdoor deals. It would be with the support of all Americans--women and minorities, especially--that he would bring about social and economic justice. Whether this is even remotely possible is anyone's guess.

As Obama fever has come and gone in America, it is still strong in Japan. Say what you will about our former President, his campaign and his image project youth and daring. His past and his heritage do so as well. Compared to all presidents before him, President Obama breaks the mold entirely.

In a country like Japan, where many politicians are low-key and similar (and old), all this is exciting. They are reminded of it every time they see or hear about him.

Also, believe it or not, there is a city in Japan with this same name. Obama is in the Fukui Prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan. Translated, Obama means "little beach" in Japanese. This happy coincidence might seem meaningless but it suddenly puts Obama (city) in the international spotlight. I've never been to Obama city but it sounds fun. If I do visit I'll tell you all how it goes!

In a collection of countless communities trying to gain tourists with festivals and events Obama city as well as Japan gets a serious edge in just about every history book--forever.

Obama: the city!

A
Obama City:
Obama, Fukui Prefecture, Japan

get directions

Also, believe it or not, there is a city in Japan with this same name. Obama is in the Fukui Prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan. Translated, Obama means "little beach" in Japanese.

This happy coincidence might seem meaningless but it suddenly puts Obama (city) in the international spotlight. I've never been to Obama city but it sounds fun. If I do visit I'll tell you all how it goes!

In a collection of countless communities trying to gain tourists with festivals and events Obama city as well as Japan gets a serious edge in just about every history book--forever.

Obama speaks English and English is cool

Some cool books my girlfriend bought a while back
Some cool books my girlfriend bought a while back | Source

What you see above are three books published in Japan about Barack Obama. They come with their own CDs. From left to right they are titled "The Speeches of Barack Obama," "The Inaugural Address of Barack Obama," and simply "Obama."

President Obama, as an American, speaks English. While he was gaining momentum during the Democrat primaries of 2008, many Japanese were interested in studying English. English is taught in school but it might not be enough. They wanted to take it to the next level: "business" English.

This interest gained serious momentum as then-Senator Obama was duking it out with John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and others for the presidential nomination. The Japanese were captivated by his voice, his message and how articulate he is.

Japanese publishers scrambled to print these speeches--adding notes about grammar and vocabulary. These books flew off the shelves immediately. To this day, many Japanese credit President Obama as an important part of their English ability.

In this case, it was timing. That's pretty cool.

Obama is unopposed... as a celebrity

In the US, there is a weird tradition of automatically despising certain elected officials simply because they are of the opposing political party. The important word is "despise." Apparently, it's not enough to disagree with on policy. That's nothing new. Anyone who says their hatred towards President Obama is due to his performance instead of his political party has never heard of Bill Clinton.

It all actually started in the 90's with President Clinton--the first Democrat president since Jimmy Carter. It was during Clinton's time in office when Republicans started the "rebuttal" of the State of the Union. Some people are still tying him to 9/11 despite evidence otherwise.

To be fair, Democrats and liberals are not shy about how the feel about President Trump. I won't go into that here. As I've said before much of this partisan hatred is fueled by big media to get big ratings. It works like a charm.

But the point is that none of this exists in Japan. Heated issues that can bring people to violence in America are no-brainers in Japan. At the same time, Japan has its own issues. It has its own policy makers to deal with them.

So, to this day, Barack Obama enjoys celebrity status in Japan. He probably will for the rest of his life. People in Japan will look across the Pacific and ask, "Why can't we get a guy like that?" Indeed.

Japanese high school students hold a mock election - And the winner is...

Who cares? Does it matter?

Does it matter what people in other countries think about our president?

See results

What do you think? - Tell us!

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    • Ewent profile image

      Eleanore Ferranti Whitaker 

      10 months ago from Old Bridge, New Jersey

      The Oriental culture is thousands of years old and is predicated like many other societies upon a sense of "honor." They love Obama because they can rely on "HIS" sense of honor to match their own.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 

      5 years ago

      OK you asked of what I think!!!

      As a Christian I can not hate a person, but I can hate the deed...however it's hard for me to even bring out that word. It's very distressing to me as a Naturalized citizen who made the choice becoming a citizen to see how the government has changed with so much HATRED for a President and all is because of your political believes. How can anyone on either sides believe in every detail of a party...I certainly don't...I have decided a long time ago not to be of any party affiliation, and vote who I think would be a better President to benefit this country. How can people hate someone they don't even know...I don't get it. NO one is perfect, and that includes Presidents. We are to pray for our leaders to make the right decisions...after all God allow this President to come into power and we are to learn from it, good or bad. Maybe because we have lost sight of God and what this country was built on, the Judeo-Christian values. JMO ;-)

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 

      5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      We LOVE Obama in Italy too...!

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