Japan's toy manufacturer Ogawa Rubber employee Yuka Nomura paints an eye on a rubber mask of US President-elect Barack Obama at the company's factory in Saitama city, suburban Tokyo. For those who just can't get enough of US president-elect Barack Obama, a Japanese mask-maker is giving thousands of people the chance to be his spitting image.
For those who just can't get enough of US president-elect Barack Obama, a Japanese mask-maker is giving thousands of people the chance to be his spitting image.
Ogawa Rubber Inc., Japan's top rubber mask studio, is moving into high gear and is manufacturing more than 300 masks of the next US president each day ahead of his inauguration on January 20.
"We sold as many as 2,500 faces of Obama in a month. It was a great hit for us," said Takahiro Yagihara, chief creator for the mask-maker based in the Tokyo suburb of Saitama.
"I've seen a couple of Obama faces made in the United States, but ours is the best," he boasted. "We hope somebody will don our Obama mask at his inauguration."
Yagihara's studio has created a variety of rubber masks, not only those of politicians but also the faces of cartoon characters and sumo wrestlers as well as the head of a bronze Buddha statue.
One of its most successful masks was Japan's former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. The company sold 3,500 masks of the － lion-maned leader.
But Koizumi's successor Shinzo Abe was a flop, selling only about 600 masks. Abe quit after one year in office after an election rout.
The studiodid not even bother making masks of Abe's sombre successor, Yasuo Fukuda. But it has found a hit in incumbent Prime Minister Taro Aso.
"Aso has also suffered from low approval ratings, but at least he's got character," Yagihara said, looking at a mask bearing Aso's trademark grin.
Aso, who took office in September, had first enjoyed high popularity in part thanks to the strategy of selling a soft image of liking cartoons.
But his support rate has slumped to 20 percent as voters question his handling of the financial crisis in the world's second-largest economy.
Yagihara, who keeps an eagle eye out for new masks, saw dim prospects among other Japanese politicians.
"I don't see any face among Japanese politicians that would match Obama's," he said.