Japan's Obama towns dances for U.S. namesake

OBAMA, Japan Wed Mar 5, 2008 6:51am EST

Citizens in Obama cheer as they watch early election results of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at his Ohio and Texas primary election on television in Obama, Japan, March 5, 2008. REUTERS/Kyodo

Citizens in Obama cheer as they watch early election results of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at his Ohio and Texas primary election on television in Obama, Japan, March 5, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

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OBAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Hundreds of residents in the sleepy Japanese fishing port of Obama sang and danced on Wednesday to try to cheer up Barack Obama after his winning steak in the U.S. presidential primaries stalled.

Wearing colorful T-shirts and headbands with the logo "I Love Obama", residents gathered at a public hall, singing songs and shouting "Obama, Obama, Obama!"

Around the town, businesses are selling everything from T-shirts, fish burgers and cakes to chopsticks with Obama's name.

Residents anxiously watched television showing victories for Hillary Clinton among Democrat Party voters in Ohio and Texas, where losses could have forced her out of the White House race.

"We should take this opportunity to make our town grow and prosper," kimono dealer Ikuyo Yamashita said, showing off her yellow kimono with the Obama name.

The town celebrated one minor victory -- a letter from the candidate thanking Mayor Toshio Murakami for sending him chopsticks and a Japanese good-luck charm.

In the letter, Obama said: "I'm touched by your friendly gesture... We share more than a common name; we share a common planet and common responsibility."

Murakami told Reuters on Wednesday that he wanted to see Obama in his town one day.

"Mr Obama, thank you for this letter. Everybody in Obama city is supporting you," he said. "We're all hoping you win the U.S. presidency and will be able to visit Obama some day."

Seiji Fujiwara, 55, heads a group of campaigners backing Obama in the U.S. presidential election in the hope the town can share his fame and attract more visitors. The town is already known in Japan as the site of a popular TV drama.

"Our town has a small population, and it's nice to see so many people visiting this town," said Kimio Fujiwara, 58, who heads the city's tourism board. "So we're grateful for Mr Obama and I wish him all the best."

Obama has known for some time about the small town that bears his name. 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".

Elsewhere in Japan, some Japanese lamented the sharp contrast between the Obama "fever" that has gripped parts of America and the political deadlock that is stimying Japan because of its divided parliament.

"Japan has to get beyond the older generation of politicians and find its own Obama," said political commentator Minoru Morita in Tokyo.

(Writing by Teruaki Ueno and Isabel Reynolds; Editing by David Fogarty)

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