Back in October, 2009 James Fallows wrote on his Atlantic Monthly blog about how a newly coined word, “obamu,” had “gained currency among some Japanese youths.” The word according to the blog entry was a verb rooted in the name Obama, as in President Obama. Essentially this new addition to the Japanese lexicon implied the same hopeful concept embraced by Obama’s famous campaign slogan, “Yes we can!”
It was a great story from that so often “inscrutable and mysterious” land known as Japan. The trouble is the newly minted expression had about all the weight of cheap counterfeit knock-off. Upon closer inspection, CNN.GO’s Daniel Krieger, in an article entitled “Obamu: Obama gets his own (imaginary?) verb,” discovered that all that glitters isn’t gold. His research findings are perhaps best summed up in the CNN.GO articles subtitle that says “There's been a lot of buzz about a new verb based on Barack Obama's name, but we don't uncover any evidence of actual usage.”
The main source for Fallows’ post is a blog by “a foreigner living in Japan.” The site's author prides himself on being free of the cultural blinders that so often obscure the truth in media reports, blogs, etc. covering Japan. Unfortunately in this case the self-proclaimed unbiased portrayal of Japan as it really is, may really be in short nothing more than another tall tale.
In light of Krieger’s work the Atlantic story looks like it could easily dovetail with the famed urban legend about the Tokyo department store whose Christmas window display featured a crucified Santa Claus and so many other tales born from Western imaginations. Sure, facts may not be as entertaining as fancy but they’re worth more than hearsay any day, and those are words you can bank on.