You’ve likely heard the idiom, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” In Tokyo, at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence, the saying came to life as teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, the American and Canadian ambassadors to Japan and nine children from the tsunami-ravaged region of Japan gathered in a small room in front of the international press.
The 17-year-old Canadian pop star walked into the room with the children and squeezed onto a couch with them. The girls and boys, all representatives of some of the hardest-hit communities in northeastern Japan, shyly peered at Bieber as he made small talk with them.
“How old are you?” the singer asked one of the girls.
“17,” she replied.
“I’m the same age!” he exclaimed.
Bieber, well-practiced at smiling naturally as dozens of camera flashes blinded him, tried to get the tsunami victims to relax and talk through an interpreter. But the children were typically shy Japanese schoolchildren. They didn’t giggle or even seem all that visibly excited to be with one of the world’s biggest media sensations. They occasionally stared at the news cameras, unable to hide the awkwardness of being part of this media event.
One of the public information officers at the U.S. Embassy said he wasn’t quite sure how many of them were fans of Justin Bieber, a singer who is quite popular in Japan, but not at the level of some of Asia’s bigger pop stars. Their teacher, however, was outwardly filled with glee, smiling and laughing as they all gathered for a group photo.
A boy read a letter he wrote to Bieber, saying thank you for sharing his time with them. The boy said he was from Otsuchi, a town where half of the city was completely leveled. He bowed and looked pleased.
“Things can get better and things will get better,” Bieber told the children, as cameras clicked all around him. “There can only be good times to come from this and my prayers go out to all of your families.”
The U.S. Embassy says the pop star had originally requested to perform a concert in the tsunami region, but that proved impossible, given the level of the disaster. So it helped arrange a 45-minute meet and greet in front of the media, hoping it would lift the spirits of the children in the region. But U.S. Ambassador John Roos also hoped it sent a message to a wider audience.
“Events like Justin Bieber’s visit to Japan not only lift the spirits of young people in Japan but are an important contribution to the message to the world that Japan is safe to visit and open for business,” said Roos.
Outside the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence a group that Bieber was more accustomed to greeting held vigil. Two dozen pre-teen girls, clutching Justin Bieber posters and books, screamed at each car that entered and exited out of the residence.
“We love you Justin!” they called out, followed by high-pitched screams.
A van, with heavily darkened windows, pulled out of the residence.
“That’s him, that’s him!” screamed a girl, who had made that same allegation at three other cars. But no matter. Her friends screamed and chased the van half-way down the block, while security guards at the U.S. Embassy tried to herd the girls onto the sidewalk. The guards looked frustrated, not sure how to contain the girls who scurried outside the residence like ants.
It was, for sure, not a typical day at this government building.