WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: What time is it?

AP News
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Posted: Nov 14, 2009 2:18 AM

What time is it again?

Even White House press secretary Robert Gibbs found the time change startling as President Barack Obama's tour of Asia got under way. As he began briefing the traveling press corps, he found he didn't really know whether to wish them a good morning, afternoon, evening or night.

"I haven't the slightest idea what time of day or what day it is, so I'll just start by saying I hope you all are doing well," Gibbs said at the start of an eight-day tour of the region.

For the record: Tokyo is 14 hours ahead of Washington. The clocks said Gibbs briefed reporters at 10 p.m. in Japan; it felt like 8 a.m. on his body.

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On some days, one question just will not do.

During a joint appearance, Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama agreed to take one question from each country's press corps. The prime minister called on a reporter from Fuji Television. The questions came in quick succession for Hatoyama: equal relationship with the United States, ending U.S. refueling operations on the island, global warming, nuclear disarmament, timelines.

The reporter also pressed Obama on nuclear weapons, visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, North Korea and the U.S.-Japanese relationship.

Hatoyama seemed struck by the questions.

"Let me start," he said. "I was asked a great deal of questions to _ especially President Obama."

U.S. officials then picked the American reporter.

"Jennifer Loven with AP _ questions fewer in number," Gibbs said to laughter.

Loven fired off three questions of her own.

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All politics is personal, Obama signaled in his remarks to prominent Japanese.

During the opening of his remarks to officials, he cited his visit to Kamakura, Japan, as a young boy to see the great bronze Amida Buddha.

"And as a child, I was more focused on the matcha ice cream," Obama said to laughter. "And I want to thank Prime Minister Hatoyama for sharing some of those memories with more ice cream last night at dinner. ... I have never forgotten the warmth and the hospitality that the Japanese people showed a young American far from home."

Seeking to strike an even closer relationship with the United States' Asian allies, Obama _ who was born in Hawaii and spent part of his childhood in Indonesia _ described himself as one of their own.

"As America's first Pacific president, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world," Obama said.

He didn't mention, however Presidents Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon. Reagan was governor of the United States' largest Pacific coast state and Nixon represented the Golden State in Congress before winning the presidency.

Obama also sent greetings to citizens of a city of about 30,000 people, about four hours from the capital where the president was meeting: Obama, Japan. Residents of that city marked Obama's November election and January inauguration with celebrations for a U.S. official who shares the name of their home.

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It was one of the few times being the president of the United States doesn't mean an automatic schedule change.

Obama's entourage was running ahead of schedule; aides considered moving up a scheduled lunch with Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

Not so fast, Mr. President.

Obama deferred to protocol and arrived on time for lunch on the ancient palace grounds, past a moat and through manicured gardens for a rare audience with the emperor.

Upon arriving at the palace, Obama greeted the emperor and empress with a deep bow and many subsequent smaller bows.

Akihito on Thursday celebrated 20 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne.

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Which way to the stage?

Some White House aides and reporters weren't sure. Scurrying through the venue where Obama was set to address prominent Japanese, the president's traveling entourage hurried through the cavernous hallways and raced to make the start of the speech.

A bit of confusion led some reporters and aides traveling with Obama to emerge on the stage as the president was starting his speech.

The embarrassed journalists quickly took their seats in the audience.

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AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven, Associated Press writers Charles Hutzler, Vijay Joshi and Eric Talmadge contributed to this report.