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Japan mayor with name that can be read 'Jo Baiden' becomes online hit

Mayor Yutaka Umeda of the town of Yamato, Kumamoto Prefecture, smiles while holding his name plate, at the town hall on Nov. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Kohei Shimizu)
A screenshot of Mayor Yutaka Umeda's profile is seen on the official website for the town of Yamato in Kumamoto Prefecture. (Mainichi)

KUMAMOTO -- With Joe Biden victorious in the U.S. presidential election, the mayor of the town of Yamato, in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kumamoto, is attracting attention for having a name that, depending on how you read the Chinese kanji characters in it, can be pronounced "Jo Baiden."

    Mayor Yutaka Umeda's name has become an internet hit in Japan, and it's reported that he had no idea of the potential connection until members of his family told him on the morning of Nov. 6 that he was trending online.

    Umeda responded to reporters via the Yamato Town Office, saying, "I have felt a not-too-distant connection, but the suddenness with which talk of this has come has left me a little perplexed." But in a passage which indicated he may have been inspired by the result, he added, "Although there are differences in the positions of a U.S. presidential candidate and the mayor of Yamato here in the center of Kyushu, our passion is the same. We continue working to fulfill our duty to ensure the happiness and spiritual richness of our residents."

    When former U.S. President Barack Obama became famous during the Democratic primaries to be named the party's presidential candidate in 2008, the city of Obama in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, was also thrust into the spotlight. Citizens there voluntarily established the "'Obama for Obama' support group," for which they even received a letter of thanks from the Obamas.

    Yamato currently has no plans to create any initiatives named after a "link to Biden," but for this town of just 14,418 people as of the end of October, it has been an unexpected way for attention to fall on it.

    (Japanese original by Kohei Shimizu, Kumamoto Bureau)

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