Oops. I forgot that I had this draft sitting here. About a month ago (yikes! it’s been too long since I’ve posted), I attended the exhibition opening for “Obama no Obama,” an exhibit at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, curated by Prof. Christine Yano, and highlighting “Obama merchandise,” or 『オバマ・グッズ』 from the Japanese city of Obama.
I have no pictures from the event, since we were not allowed to take pictures in the gallery, but I’m sure if you just Google, you’ll be able to find plenty of examples of the “I <3 Obama" goods being produced/sold in Obama City, from T-shirts and lanyards to “Yes We Can (of coffee)” to manju stamped with “I <3 Obama" on them, to lots of even weirder crazier stuff.
Obama was once a castle town, the center of a small han in Wakasa province, a major medieval seaport, and even today a major center for the production of lacquered chopsticks. It seems like a town with some serious historical value and other tourist interest that was in sore need of something to drum up business, and then, poof, there it was! Barack Obama catapulted onto the world stage in 2004, and began campaigning for president a few years later, and Obama City saw its opportunity!
I am sure that Dr. Yano has all kinds of complex, intensely insightful things she could say about this phenomenon, from an anthropological standpoint, but she also seems to just really enjoy the wackiness of it all.
For the opening, the mayor of Obama City was here, along with several members of the “We Love Obama Society”, and a hula troupe which formed in Obama City in celebration of their tenuous and wacky connection to Barack Obama, and through him to Hawaii. Their sensei (or kumu hula) was super nice – I ended up talking to her briefly. She’s from Tokyo, but just had a sort of energy about her that made me wonder if she was from here; she’s got a very good spirit.
Here’s a video of one of the Obama Girls’ hula performances. You can find two more on my YouTube account.
On a perhaps slightly related note (insofar as it relates to US-Japan relations), I’ve found that a nice catalog of the Smithsonian holdings of gifts received by Commodore Perry in Japan and Ryukyu is freely available online. The book, entitled “Artifacts of Diplomacy: Smithsonian collections from Commodore Matthew Perry’s Japan Expedition (1853-1854),” can be found at: http://www.sil.si.edu/smithsoniancontributions/Anthropology/pdf_lo/SCtA-0037.pdf.
Perhaps most exciting and interesting for me is the lists, towards the very end of the catalog, of gifts given and received on specific dates by Commodore Perry and his entourage. I see no mention of the Gokoku-ji bronze temple bell, fashioned in 1456, and taken by Perry and hung at the Annapolis US Naval Academy where, I have heard, it was rung every time Navy beat Army in football, until the bell was returned in the 1980s or so; nor do I see any mention of Okinawan coral limestone brought back by Perry to be inserted into the Washington Monument, then under construction. (The stone was in the end inserted, at the 220th landing. Hopefully, it’s visible and marked today; I’ll have to take a look the next time I am in DC.) But, even so, to see the lists of exactly how many fans, bolts of silk, pouches of tobacco, etc. the Commodore and his people received on each visit to Ryukyu, and what sorts of gifts they gave to the Ryukyuan royalty and officials in return, is really quite interesting.
Meanwhile, as just sort of a side note, the Korean Uigwe texts which I mentioned about a year ago that Japan was talking about returning, are now in the process of actually being returned. I think this is a great thing for Korea, and hopefully this will actually foster some goodwill, rather than being viewed by Koreans as just getting back what the “evil” Japan “stole” from them.
Putting aside whether or not the books should be returned – I think it’s a great effort of goodwill that they are being returned – I maintain my view that their “theft” was not “illegal” as the Korean YonHap News Agency would have it. Korea was a part of Japan at that time just as much as Okinawa is today; if moving these books to Tokyo during peacetime constituted “looting” or “theft”, then so does moving objects of Okinawan importance to Tokyo, or moving objects of Hawaiian importance to Washington, or moving Welsh or Scottish objects to London. Call it immoral or inappropriate if you like, or culturally insensitive, but it’s not illegal.
Another “Quick Links” coming up soon!