President Trump arrives in Tokyo this Saturday for the start of a 12-day trip to Asia. It’s an important trip for the American leader, who will have to discuss a number of difficult issues in the region including ongoing tension with North Korea.
But while Trump is in Japan, he may also receive some unusual entertainment — courtesy of an outlandish, leopard skin-clad singer named Pikotaro and his absurdly popular song, “Pen Pineapple Apple Pen.”
Kyodo news agency reports that Trump will be greeted by the performer at a dinner on Monday, the day after the American president is scheduled to play a round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama, currently ranked fourth in the world.
While Matsuyama has already confirmed his game with Trump, Pikotaro has not spoken of a possible meeting with the U.S. president yet and the singer’s representatives did not return a request for comment. Natsuko Sakata, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said that events were still being decided upon. “We will confirm or announce further details in due course,” he said.
To the uninitiated, Pikotaro may seem like an odd guest for a dinner between two world leaders. The singer, whose real name is Daimaou Kosaka, was a little known 43-year-old comedian until August 2016. Then he released a video for the infuriatingly catchy “Pen Pineapple Apple Pen” and was catapulted to international stardom.
The YouTube video of the song has been watched 126 million times. Canadian singer Justin Bieber dubbed it his “favorite on the internet.”
Pikotaro is often compared to South Korea’s Psy, another East Asian singer who found online success around the globe. The truth is, he’s quite a bit more unusual. “PPAP,” as the song is known, does not contain the wry social commentary of a song like “Gangnam Style.” Instead, the song simply talks nonsensically about “apple pen” and “pineapple pen” for a minute; then it abruptly ends.
Even so, a Trump-Pikotaro meeting may be yet another example of savvy courting of Trump by the Japanese government. Last November, Ivanka Trump posted a video to Instagram of her then-5-year-old daughter — and the president’s granddaughter — Arabella singing her own version of the song.
“Apologies in advance,” Ivanka Trump wrote as a caption. “This may be stuck in your head all day.”
The video caught the attention not only of Pikotaro, who said he was “surprised” in response, but also the Japanese government. When Abe met with Trump and Ivanka in New York the following month, he told the president that he had seen Arabella’s version of the song.
“When I told him that I'd never seen such a cute version of PPAP, he was really happy,” Abe later told reporters.
As The Washington Post's David Nakamura reported, the Japanese Foreign Ministry followed up upon this by getting Pikotaro to record a message for the annual cherry blossom reception at Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae’s residence in Washington — an event where both Ivanka and Arabella were in attendance.
“I hope you are enjoying the National Cherry Blossom Festival 2017 — yeah!” Pikotaro said in English, before later singing a special version of PPAP that praised U.S.-Japan relations.
An unnamed Foreign Ministry source told Sankei that Abe is keen to show Trump hospitality during his visit to Japan and that the invitation to Pikotaro was because Abe knew Trump’s granddaughter was a fan. The newspaper also reported that the relationship between Trump and Abe was different to the more “business-like” one with President Obama.
Many Japanese social media users were impressed by Abe’s unorthodox diplomacy toward Trump. However, RocketNews24 reports that some suggested that “PPAP” was not popular anymore and that the singer's appearance at such a high profile event could be embarrassing.
Yuki Oda contributed to this report
More on WorldViews