This means, in part, moving toward the induction of the world's third-largest economy into the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. Noda has expressed his willingness to join TPP talks, but this regional pact has fierce opponents in Japan's agricultural lobby and even among members of Noda's own Democratic Party. Japan needs U.S. approval to join the talks, but it also needs U.S. support to tackle domestic opposition.
Japanese officials are hoping to set up a one-on-one meeting between Obama and Noda at the East Asia Summit starting this weekend, which will be a part of Obama's first international trip since the election and will also include stops in Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia.
Still, the lingering controversy over the U.S. military base in Okinawa has many in Japan questioning the strong relationship between the two countries.
The small southern Japanese island, which represents just 1 percent of Japan's land area, is host to more than half of the U.S. troops in Japan. The area is strategically important to U.S. interests in the region, but it has repeatedly been the center of controversy for the U.S. military. Among the problems have been crimes committed by U.S. servicemen, noise pollution, and accidents involving military aircraft in Okinawa.
Most recently, two American sailors were accused of raping a Japanese woman in Okinawa. The two were indicted by local prosecutors last week, and the incident led to heightened tensions and the imposition of a curfew by the U.S. military on its troops in Japan. Residents have protested the U.S. presence on the small island and while both countries have been waffling on the issue for years now, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba indicated last week that he wants to work on moving U.S. Marines out of Okinawa.
The situation in Okinawa, however, has been overshadowed by an even more pressing concern for Japan and the rest of the world — the rise of China. In particular, Japan seeks U.S. support as it confronts Beijing over the uninhabited Senkaku/Diayu islands in the East China Sea, which both countries claim. The long-running territorial dispute was reignited in September when Japan announced plans to purchase the islands, sparking widespread anti-Japanese protests in China.
While Obama's leadership in his first term led to Washington's "pivot" to Asia, many in Japan are concerned that the growing economic importance of China could reduce the U.S. commitment to Japan.
"I don't think we can expect much cooperation of Mr. Obama, because China has been very influential because their economy has been growing," said Koichi Harada, 30, a young professional in Tokyo. "We also have to consider ... how to deal with China, because the relationship is going to be getting worse between the two countries."
On top of territorial issues with China, Japanese people are concerned that the United States may be focusing too much on its larger, more powerful neighbor.