The mayor of a small Japanese town has rocketed to internet fame as his name can be pronounced “Jo Baiden”, similar to that of the US president-elect ‘Joe Biden’.
Yutaka Umeda, 73, mayor of Yamato in the Kumamoto prefecture, was surprised when he was alerted to his online fame by his family. He told the Japanese Times: “It feels as though I've also won the election after hearing about (Biden’s) projected win.”
The mayor’s family name, 梅田, is a combination of characters meaning ‘plum’ and ‘rice field’ which are more commonly pronounced as ‘ume’ and ‘da’, but they can also be read as ‘bai’ and ‘den’. The character for his forename, 穣, is normally read as ‘jo’.
The mayor said that he had received floods of messages after Biden’s win in the 2020 US presidential election. “I feel very close to him”, Umeda said, adding that he’d like to use the attention to put his small town on the map: “Being the president of a superpower like the United States and a mayor of Yamato – the scale is completely different, but I'd like to think of ways to promote the town.”
In a similar coincidence, the Japanese fishing town of ‘Obama’ shot to fame in 2008 when Barack Obama became the presidential candidate for the Democrats. The town later created its own Obama-themed merch, including chopsticks, sweet bean buns, and various souvenirs.
After he became president, Obama even name-checked the town in a speech when he visited Japan in 2009, saying: “And of course, I could not come here without sending my greetings and gratitude to the citizens of Obama, Japan.”
Umeda hopes his phonetic link to the president-elect will bring Yamato, a town with a population of just 15,000, the same amount of attention.