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Japan PM Abe and U.S. President Obama - what's in a name?

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a joint news conference at the Akasaka Palace in TokyoU.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a joint news conference at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have hoped to demonstrate his personal ties with President Barack Obama during the U.S. leader's state visit to Tokyo - but if how they addressed each other in public was any gauge, the effort fell a little short.

Ronald Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone set the gold-standard for chummy relations between leaders of the two allies back in the 1980's, when they famously called each other by the nicknames "Ron" and "Yasu".

George W. Bush and Junichiro Koizumi also bonded during Koizumi's 2001-2006 term as Japanese premier, playing ball, eating BBQ at Bush's Texas ranch, and visiting Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion, where Koizumi crooned Elvis tunes.

Abe, perhaps keen to dispel talk that he and Obama - often described as cerebral and businesslike - didn't click, spoke warmly of their Wednesday evening casual sushi dinner.

"He told me the sushi we had last night was the best he'd had in his life. We spoke for an hour and a half about the issues between Japan and US and about global issues," Abe said at a joint news conference after their summit on Thursday.

Obama, for his part, thanked Abe for Japan's warm welcome and some "outstanding sushi and sake".

But Abe's repeated use of Obama's first name during the media event - he called him "Barack" at least six times - went mostly unrequited, with the president referring to the Japanese prime minister as "Shinzo" only a couple of times.

"Japanese love the idea of the two leaders being on a first name basis," said one political scientist. "Obama not saying it enough - there are people who will read something into it."

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel)