Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Welcome to Japan, Mr. President: Busy schedule planned for Obama's only full day in Japan

Busy schedule planned for Obama's only full day in Japan

It's stupid I feel obliged to begin this blog post with an explanation about how this isn't meant to be political.  Like a lot of people, I have strong political opinions and partisan beliefs.  And like a lot of people, I love to pretend mine are the correct ones reached after an intense internal dialogue based largely on logic and rationalism.  I don't post about that stuff here because arguing about politics is one of the stupidest things a person can do, only slightly less stupid than arguing about religion and just a bit stupider than arguing about which college football conference is best.  People close to me know my political opinions and that's enough.  This is not meant as a political piece.  It's neither an endorsement nor a criticism.  There's just no way as an American in Japan I can pretend I'm not interested in Barack Obama's visit.

Things in the world being the way they are these days, I'm concerned about safety.  Of course, security levels have been raised in Tokyo.  On any given day, if you ride the Yamanote line train, you see a televised notice of heightened security, with an admonishment to report unattended baggage.  I read yesterday a news story about plastic wrap placed over trash receptacles in the train stations, taking trash cans out of use for the duration of the president's visit.  I've made a couple of trips to the palace to greet the emperor and listen to his New Year's message.  It's a long walk and you have to pass through a long tent where you're scanned and scrutinized.  Cops in uniform and plainclothes loiter nearby to take you down in a worst-case scenario.  I can only imagine the prep for this to be roughly the same.  That's how I imagine it, anyway.  I hope so.

Having made Japan my home throughout his rise to the White House and for most of duration there, I've come to have a kind of outsider's view of America's mixed reaction to his presidency.  A lot of it has been tinged with... well... insanity.  American political discourse has been becoming increasingly unhinged and even demented for the longest time.  I can remember some pretty nutty things said and done way back in the early 90s, but I think 9/11 only made things worse since the turn of the century.  It's as if my country lost its collective mind that day and has never quite gotten it back.  Hence my delicate opening paragraph gambit up there.

So while his every appearance or statement, no matter how innocuous on the face of it, tends to result in wildly divergent reactions back home, but Barack Obama remains hugely popular here.  There's a Japanese town called Obama that's made the most of the name connection, and right after his first election, Gamagori used the "Yes, we can!" catchphrase in a tourist campaign, with an Obama impersonator giving a thumbs-up and telling potential visitors, "Yes, we can enjoy Gamagori!"  He's got that indescribable thing, that certain ineffable quality that catches on in Japan, same as Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga.  He hasn't barfed on a prime minister.  Let's put it that way.

Left, right, middle-of-the-road, whatever you think me, my main feeling is I'm always happy when a fellow American makes a stop here in Japan.  Whether it's some director shilling for a movie or a president pushing an agenda, I'm just glad they're going to have a chance to see the thrilling sights of Tokyo at night, to have some sushi, to spend a little time checking out the place where I've chosen to make my life.  When I saw the photo of Mr. Abe and Mr. Obama tie-less on their way to a meal together at world-famous Jiro's, I could put aside whatever political disagreements or objections I have with their policies and identify with them as people.

On the other hand, I fully endorse their tie-less look.  Anyway, as an American, I welcome the president to Japan.  Have a fun time, absorb the sights and sounds, tell the world how delicious that sushi was and all the best.

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