Residents of the Japanese city of Obama in Fukui Prefecture expressed delight Wednesday over Illinois Sen Barack Obama winning the U.S. presidential election Tuesday. About 200 citizens, U.S. students and Obama supporters gathered at a rally at a culture center in the city on the Sea of Japan coast chanting Obama's name and his slogan, ''Yes, we can.''
''We're pleased our cheerleading has paid off,'' said 47-year-old Yasunori Maeno, a member of a 1,300-person group rooting for Obama to become the next U.S. president. ''We'd really like Mr Obama to visit the city of Obama,'' he said.
Hula dance teams, dubbed the ''Obama Girls'' and ''Obama Boys,'' received loud applause from the audience as they performed.
The Obama Girls were halfway through their routine when the results came in on overhead TVs. Dozens of supporters swarmed the stage and joined hands, jumping up and down as they chanted "Obama! Obama! Obama!"
The Obama campaign brought an air of excitement to this normally sleepy seaside town. Local leaders, trying to revive the economy, latched onto the connection as a way to promote tourism. An "Obama for Obama" supporters group attracted 1,500 members.
"This is great. I followed the election closely on TV. I'm hoping Obama can make the world more peaceful," said Akino Nakaoji, 34, still wearing a bright blue skirt and flowered lei necklace from her hula performance earlier in the day.
It was lunchtime Wednesday in Japan when the U.S. election results came in.
"It was over so fast, I'm glad I got a chance to dance," said Satoru Wada, a 38-year-old male member of the hula squad, before heading back to work at a hotel.
Obama has a population of 32,000, smaller than the crowds the candidate drew at many of his U.S. campaign stops.
While few along its quiet streets could name his policy proposals, his optimism and upbeat message of change resonates well here.
Obama, which means "little beach" in Japanese, is a former fishing town that now relies almost entirely on tourism. More than 500 years old, it boasts several ancient temples and a distinctive hand-painted lacquerware.
But the rustic town, wrapped around a stretch of sandy beach and surrounded by wooded hills, is not well-known, even among Japanese tourists.
So Obama's success has been a welcome boon.
The town has been featured repeatedly in the domestic and international media, and the number of visitors has increased 20% since it linked itself to the Obama campaign, said Shigeyoshi Takeda, who heads the city tourism bureau.
"We've had a lot more customers since the campaign, especially foreigners. We rarely had foreigners here before," said Atsuko Ikeda, 38, the cheery owner of a watering hole on the main shopping street.
Obama's mayor, Kouji Matsuzaki, himself won election with a campaign based on the English word "change." He said he plans to invite Obama to visit Obama, and dispatched a congratulatory telegram to the president-elect.
"We are looking into making him a special honorary citizen," Matsuzaki said.
The mastermind behind the "Obama for Obama" campaign, Seiji Fujiwara, is executive director of one of the town's largest hotels. He said the town has several business leaders with marketing experience that jumped on the opportunity.
"There are other towns named Obama in Japan, but we were the first to react," he said.
Town officials sent gifts and received an official letter from the campaign, signed "Your friend" in Japanese.
Fujiwara said the support group is already planning its future moves. Among them: Go to Washington for the inauguration in January and perform a hula dance.
Meanwhile, in the city of Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture, some 200 residents and tourists at the Obama hot-spring area waved the U.S. flag and expressed congratulations to Obama on clinching the U.S. presidency.
''Once Mr Obama assumes the presidency, our area will be known in the world,'' said 39-year-old Tetsuyuki Hayashida, a member of Unzen's chamber of commerce and industry.© Wire reports