This presentation examines race and the Obamamania phenomenon in Japan, particularly during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and continuing through 2010. Obama has been wildly popular in Japan, with best-selling books of his speeches as English-speaking lessons, a rural town sharing the same name (“Obama” in Fukui prefecture) re-branding itself with his literal image on souvenir goods, and the coinage of the term “Obamajority” by the mayor of Hiroshima Tadatoshi Akiba upon the 64th anniversary of the bombing of his city to refer to the “majority of people and nations” who want to eliminate nuclear weapons. Obama’s many fans in Japan have adopted his two slogans – “Yes we can!” and “Change” – as rallying cries for social and political reform. When asked, many of these fans claim that Obama’s race (whether African American or mixed) plays little or no part in his image or popularity, and that he thus heralds the possibility and acceptability of a “post-racial” figure.
How is Obama’s purported post-raciality inflected by the persistence of blood ideology in contemporary Japan? This presentation is a preliminary talk-through of issues surrounding “post-race” as part of my ongoing research on Obamamania in Japan.
Christine Yano is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii. Her books include Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song (2002, Harvard University Press), Crowning the Nice Girl: Gender, Ethnicity, and Culture in Hawaii’s Cherry Blossom Festival (2006, University of Hawaii Press), and Airborne Dreams: Japanese American Stewardesses with Pan American World Airways (2011, Duke University Press). She is currently writing a book on pink globalization, the spread of Japanese cute culture.