Former Vice President Joe Biden may have won the U.S. presidential election – but thousands of miles away, another politician feels as if he is the star of the show.
Yutaka Umeda, the mayor of Yamato, a town of about 15,000 people in Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture, unexpectedly found Internet fame over the weekend as people pointed out that the characters of his name can also be pronounced as “Jo Baiden,” sparking a flurry of interest in the 73-year-old.
Under the Japanese Kanji writing system, which originates from China, characters often have an array of different phonetic readings.
The Japan Times explained Monday that the politician’s forename, “Yutaka,” is more commonly read as “jo,” while his last name “Umeda” is made up of characters meaning “plum” and “rice field.” They are usually pronounced as “ume” and “da” but can also be read as “bai” and “den.”
Umeda told local media that he was oblivious to this connection to Biden, 77, until family members alerted him Friday that his name was causing a stir on social media.
Then, he says, he received a flood of messages.
“It feels as though I’ve also won the election,” Umeda said Sunday, according to the Kyodo news agency, while admitting that he feels “very close” to Biden, who is set to become the 46th U.S. president in January.
Umeda acknowledged that the demands of their roles may be different, but he believes the two share a passion for wanting to achieve the very best for their countries.
If their paths ever cross, Umeda said, he would introduce himself as “Biden of Kumamoto.”
On social media, many were amused at the link between the two politicians.
“Trying to imagine how one could explain to overseas readers that a guy named Yutaka Umeda also sort of has the same name as Joe Biden,” Peter Landers, the Wall Street Journal’s’ Tokyo bureau chief, tweeted Monday.
Biden is not the first U.S. politician with links to Japan.
Former President Barack Obama was also closely tied to destinations in the country – much to the delight of locals and those working at Obama Onsen, a hot spring resort in the town of Obama in Nagasaki prefecture that garnered international interest in 2008 when the 44th U.S. president was elected.
A life-size statue of the former U.S. leader was erected outside the town’s tourism office several years ago.
Also in Japan lies the port city of Obama, in Fukui prefecture. It began selling Barack Obama-themed rice cakes, posters, chopsticks and clothing during his presidency.
Residents of Obama, which means “little beach,” formed a support group for the then-president in 2009, telling ABC News that he did “not feel like a stranger” and was considered family.
Speaking during a visit to Japan in 2009, the then-president said: “I could not come here without sending my greetings and gratitude to the citizens of Obama, Japan.”
On Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga offered Biden his good wishes and later said he was looking forward to working with the president-elect to strengthen ties between the two countries.
But in Britain, sharing the same name as a world leader has not always been considered a blessing. Theresa May Scrivener found that out the hard way in 2017, when President Donald Trump mistook her for then-Prime Minister Theresa May and angrily tweeted at her as she slept.
“Theresa @theresamay, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom, we are doing just fine!” Trump tweeted at the time. He later deleted his tweet and republished it – this time tagging the correct Twitter handle, @theresa_may.
Trump’s error was met with astonishment by many Brits, who wondered, “Who in the world is Theresa May Scrivener?”
Scrivener turned out to be a resident of an English seaside town who had just six followers on Twitter at the time Trump targeted her.
“If I wanted to be famous, I would have gone on ‘X Factor,’ ” Scrivener told the Press Association, adding that her newfound fame had made it difficult for her to step out of her home because of the public’s interest.
“It’s amazing to think that the world’s most powerful man managed to press the wrong button,” she said. “I’m just glad he was not contacting me to say he was going to war with North Korea.”