U.S. Election Boosts Japanese Mayor ‘Jo Baiden’ to Internet Fame
A small-town Japanese mayor became an Internet sensation this week after observers noted that the characters of his name may be read as “Jo Baiden,” phonetically the same as the 2020 American presidential election challenger Joe Biden.
Yutaka Umeda, 73, is the mayor of the town of Yamato in Kumamoto Prefecture, located on Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu. He told the Japan Times on Sunday that he was pleasantly surprised when his family notified him that an alternate reading of his name had gone viral online in recent days for sounding very similar to Joe Biden, the U.S. politician.
Chinese logographic characters used in the Japanese writing system known as Kanji “usually have several phonetic readings,” the Japan Times explained. “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 told the newspaper that he has “received a flood of messages” after the former U.S. vice president declared victory in the U.S. presidential election on November 7.
Umeda said he would like to capitalize on his newfound Internet fame to raise the profile of Yamato, a town of 14,418 people.
“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 told the newspaper.
In statements to the Japanese press released through the Yamato Town Office on Monday, Umeda said, “I have felt a not-too-distant connection [to Joe Biden], but the suddenness with which talk of this has come has left me a little perplexed.”
Japanese newspaper the Mainichi noted a passage in Umeda’s statements to reporters “which indicated he may have been inspired by the result.”
“Although there are differences in the positions of a U.S. presidential candidate and the mayor of Yamato here in the center of Kyushu [island], our passion is the same. We continue working to fulfill our duty to ensure the happiness and spiritual richness of our residents,” Umeda said.
When former U.S. President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, was elected to presidential office in 2008, the Japanese city of Obama, located in Fukui Prefecture, similarly generated international headlines.
“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,” the Japan Times recalled.
“When the president [Obama] 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,’” the newspaper added.