Japan's Obama town set to party for U.S. namesake

OBAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Dancing, singing and playing the guitar, residents in the sleepy Japanese fishing port of Obama are readying to party for Barack Obama before Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election.

A statue of Senator Barack Obama is unveiled at Obama, 400km (250 miles) west of Tokyo, April 23, 2008. REUTERS/Kyodo

Around 50 men, women and children wearing “I Love Obama” T-shirts practiced hula dancing over the weekend for the Honolulu-born Democratic candidate, hoping he will win the vote and one day visit the town as U.S. President.

“I’m 85 percent confident that Obama will win,” said hotel owner Seiji Fujiwara, who heads a group backing Obama in hopes that the town, with a population of 32,000, can share his fame and attract more visitors. “I think he’ll be alright.”

Shops in the town have been selling everything from T-shirts, fish burgers and steamed cakes to chopsticks bearing Obama’s name.

“We’ve been dancing for Mr. Obama for more than six months,” said Yuko Shirayama of the local “Obama Girls” hula dancing group, created to cheer on Obama. “So I hope he wins.”

Her group traveled to Hawaii to celebrate Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination for U.S. president earlier this year and the dancers hope to go to Obama’s inauguration ceremony if he wins.

“If Mr. Obama becomes president and gets a chance to visit Japan, we would like him to visit our city,” Mayor Kouji Matsuzaki told Reuters.

Obama has drawn popularity not only in the town sharing his name, but also across the rest of Japan.

In a survey of 3,500 readers by the Asahi Shimbun daily, 73 percent said they would choose Obama if they could vote, while only 7 percent said they would pick Republican rival John McCain.

The town’s residents will hold their breath as they watch the election results together on television, but they plan to dance and party regardless of the outcome.

Reporting by Toshi Maeda; Editing by Alex Richardson