GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Japanese diplomats tend to give off the impression that they're aloof and uptight. Even among Palestinians, who generally have friendly feelings toward Japan, that image had been deeply rooted. Until now, that is.
Japanese Ambassador for Palestinian Affairs Takeshi Okubo has shown that he has some dance moves up his sleeve.
This summer, through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Japanese government hosted a summer camp for 1,000 children orphaned by war in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, where Israel has imposed a blockade as part of its "anti-terrorism" measures.
Israel and Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist organization that controls Gaza, have waged war three times in the past eight years. The camp provided children orphaned by the fighting with the opportunity to learn theater and dance. At the program's closing ceremony on Aug. 17, Okubo addressed the attendees, in which he touched upon Japan's recovery from World War II and said, "Please do not lose hope."
As the closing ceremony reached its climax, the children began to dance to a folk song on stage, and a UNDP representative and Okubo were invited to join them. The UNDP official clapped along to the music, and Okubo began to dance. The latter was then handed an ornamental stick used as a dance prop, which he took, and continued his not-excessively-showy, but comedic, dance.
Once local media posted the footage on Facebook, it went viral, recording some 500,000 views (Gaza has a population of approximately 1.8 million). Comments meaning "Urgent! Watch this Japanese ambassador dance!" and "A Japanese ambassador sheds his stoicism to the delight of children in Gaza," as well as "Arab ambassadors should learn from his friendly manner" lit up the internet. Some people commented online that Japan's recovery from World War II should serve as an example to Gaza and its recovery process.
More than a few Gaza residents see Japan's "miraculous" comeback as an inspiration. And an ambassador from the country that made that comeback was now setting aside formalities to make the orphans of Gaza laugh with his dance, moving the hearts of many. (By Tomoko Ohji, Jerusalem Bureau)