Democrats Abroad toast the historic win

by Setsuko Kamiya

A room full of 110 Democrats applauded, set off noisemakers and toasted with sparkling wine at a Tokyo restaurant Wednesday when Sen. Barack Obama’s victory in the U.S. presidential election was announced at 1 p.m. on the big-screen TV.

“We’ve been waiting for this for eight years,” Lauren Shannon, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad Japan, told the enthusiastic crowd at the Baron Restaurant in Nishi-Azabu in Minato Ward. “I’m really excited for the next four years.”

Democrats believe Americans are “basically sick of the Republican government,” said Will Lautenshlager, 33, who is studying for his master’s degree in art history at Sophia University. “We are sick of everything. Foreign policy, first and foremost.”

With the economy tanking, spending money on Iraq is out of the question, said Jean-Paul Biondi, 27. He said he believes the U.S. government should raise taxes to finance measures to rescue the economy and cover social welfare expenses.

The Democrats in Japan, however, aren’t exactly clear about how Obama’s presidency will impact Japan.

Lautenshlager said he has not heard specific comments about Japan from Obama or his Republican rival, John McCain, but thinks Obama will work hard on diplomacy.

On North Korea, he expects Obama to engage in more dialogue, while McCain would have resorted to harsher measures, such as a trade embargo.

Meanwhile, Republicans Abroad Japan representative William Saito said that despite the defeat of his candidate, it was worth volunteering for John McCain’s campaign because the discussions and debates will give the president-elect a better understanding of the issues.

“There is always half the people in the U.S. who are disappointed (after an election). But that disappointment doesn’t last very long,” said Saito, 37, a Japanese-American from California who runs a company in Tokyo. “I think come January, (when) the president is inaugurated, the American people will do a good job backing him.”

In contrast with the election frenzy the Americans experienced, the Japanese interviewed on the streets of Tokyo’s Ginza district Wednesday were taking the election more calmly.

Masao Kamiyama, 73, who owns a grocery store in Saitama Prefecture, said he wasn’t particularly interested in the U.S. presidential elections and did not favor either Obama or McCain, while Keisuke Fukano, 23, an office worker, said he “favored Obama for his oratorical skills and charisma.”

Ayako Sano, 25, an advertising employee, said the global financial crisis is such a big event that it has overshadowed the presidential election.

“I don’t think the next U.S. president will be able to change much of the current situation,” she said.

As for Obama’s stance toward Japan, she said Obama would probably keep the U.S.-Japan relationship stable.

U.S. Democrats meanwhile have high expectations for Obama in light of America’s mounting troubles. An exit poll suggested voters’ biggest interests are the economic crisis and war in Iraq.

“It’s not just the beginning,” said Terri MacMillan, a media coordinator for Democrats Abroad Japan. “It’s a bad time to be the president. Who wants to be a president? It’s somebody who’s going to really do it for us.”

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Video clip of Obama supporters celebrating in
Tokyo