Japan's Obama city cheers Democrat contender

TOKYO Wed Feb 13, 2008 12:11am EST

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TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese city called "Obama", hoping to boost its profile at home and abroad as a tourist attraction, cheered Barack Obama's victories in three more Democratic nominating contests on Tuesday.

"Hurray! That's really great," said Seiji Fujiwara in the port city of Obama, population 32,500 in central Japan. "Has he scored seven consecutive wins? He is truly riding on a wave of victories."

Fujiwara, 55, launched a group of campaigners to help Obama win the U.S. presidential election so that the city with the same name can share his fame.

No one in his group is eligible to vote in the United States.

Obama easily won three more Democratic nominating contests on Tuesday, extending his winning streak over rival Hillary Clinton and building momentum in a hard-fought U.S. presidential race.

"We are earnestly hoping that Obama will become a good statesman and our city will become a good tourist attraction well-known in Japan and abroad with the help of Mr Obama," Fujiwara told Reuters by phone.

He said his group was preparing headbands, badges and T-shirts with Obama's portrait and a logo "We Love Obama" on them to campaign for Obama.

"But in order to do that, we need to get his approval," he said.

The city mayor sent Obama a letter, lacquered chopsticks and the city's tourism brochures a year ago, but Obama had yet to reply, he said.

"So far we have been unilaterally giving him 'love calls' as we have a close affinity with him, although we have not met him," said Hideki Ikegami, a city official in charge of promoting tourism. "Perhaps Mr Obama has yet to know and feel the real festive mood prevailing here."

But Obama knows about the small city that bears his name and has even encountered a former resident.

He once said that during a visit to Japan, the immigration officer took a look at his passport and said to him: "I'm from Obama."

Fujiwara said he would try to meet Obama if he was elected U.S. president.

"If he becomes the president of the United States, we want to make a courtesy call on the White House," he said. "We really want him to visit Japan and hold talks with the Japanese prime minister in Obama."

(Reporting by Teruaki Ueno; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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