The mayor of a small Japanese town has become an internet sensation after it was observed that the characters of his name can be read as “Jo Baiden,” phonetically the same as the name of the winner in last week’s U.S. presidential election.
Yutaka Umeda, 73, mayor of Yamato, Kumamoto Prefecture, was caught by surprise when his family told him that an alternate reading of his name had drawn attention online.
“I feel very close to him. It feels as though I’ve also won the election after hearing about (Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s) projected win” over his rival, President Donald Trump, Umeda said Sunday.
Kanji (Chinese characters) usually have several phonetic readings. The mayor’s family name comprises characters meaning “plum” and “rice field,” but while they are usually pronounced as “ume” and “da” in names — a fairly common one in Japan — they can also be read as “bai” and “den.” The character for Yutaka, meanwhile, is more commonly read as “jo.”
Umeda said he has received a flood of messages following the former U.S. vice president’s election win.
With Biden set to take office next year, Umeda hopes the event will also be a chance for his small town of about 15,000 to bask in the spotlight
“Being the president of a superpower like the United States and a mayor of Yamato — the scale (of our jobs) is completely different, but I’d like to think of ways to promote the town,” he said.
When former Biden’s running mate, Barack Obama, was elected president in 2008, the city of Obama, in Fukui Prefecture, generated headlines in both Japan and abroad.
Local residents established a group to support Obama and created merchandise featuring his likeness. The then-mayor of the coastal city even expressed hope that Obama would become a special honorary citizen.
When the president visited Japan in 2009, he even addressed the city during a speech, saying, “And of course, I could not come here without sending my greetings and gratitude to the citizens of Obama, Japan.”