Obama and his fellow world leaders from the club of rich democracies are gathering for a meeting where much energy will be spent discussing the lacklustre state of the global economy.
But it will be Obama’s trip to Hiroshima as the only sitting president to visit the site of the world’s first nuclear attack that is likely to dominate the headlines this week.
“Our visit to Hiroshima will honour all those who were lost in World War II and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
It will also “highlight the extraordinary alliance that we have been able to forge over these many decades,” he said.
The leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada were also making their way to Ise-Shima, a mountainous and sparsely populated area 300 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Tokyo, whose mainly elderly residents rely chiefly on tourism and cultured pearls.
– Tight security –
Security was tight across the region, with thousands of extra police drafted in to patrol train stations and ferry terminals, and to direct traffic on the usually quiet roads during the two-day meeting.
Tokyo said it was taking no chances in the wake of terror attacks that struck Paris and Brussels in recent months.
Dustbins have been removed or sealed and coin-operated lockers blocked at train and subway stations in the capital and areas around the venue site.
Authorities said they will be keeping a close eye on so-called “soft targets” such as theatres and stadiums.
However, unlike in many other rich democracies, protests were unlikely to cause much of a security headache.
One left-wing demonstration organised for Wednesday morning — and focused mostly on Japan’s domestic politics — attracted just a handful of largely elderly protesters.
Britain’s David Cameron, whose country’s referendum next month on continued membership of the European Union was likely to figure prominently on the summit agenda, arrived late afternoon at the main international airport near Nagoya.
France’s Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel were expected to arrive on Thursday morning. The meeting will also be joined by Italy’s Matteo Renzi and Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
A small crowd of well-wishers gathered within sight of the helicopter landing pad to which leaders were being ferried, hoping for a glimpse of one of the stars of the geopolitical stage.
– Spend or save -The leaders will spend Thursday morning at Ise Jingu, a huge shrine complex that sits at the spiritual heart of Japan’s native Shintoism.
In line with the animistic religion’s traditions, the buildings are regularly replaced, but the shrine is believed to have occupied the same spot for more than 2,000 years.
The sputtering global economy was expected to take centre stage in the formal talks when they begin on Thursday afternoon, although divisions were likely to remain over whether the world should spend or save its way out of the current malaise.
“The global economy is going to be the biggest theme for the G7 Ise-Shima summit,” host Abe told reporters.
“President Obama and I share the recognition that the G7 should seek sustainable and powerful growth globally.”
Although China, the world’s second largest economy, will not be present, it looks set to loom large over discussions. Japan and the US are keen to corral support for a growing pushback against Beijing’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea.
The G7 will also discuss the spectre of Islamist terrorism, with France’s Hollande keen to address the issue after a brutal year that saw France hit twice by jihadists.
The leaders’ arrivals brought a measure of relief to members of the global press, who had spent much of Wednesday cooling their heels and interviewing each other.
Japanese television networks swarmed on foreign reporters in the cavernous press centre, demanding to know their impressions of this picturesque corner of the country, and desperate to hear what they thought of the lunch spread.
Journalists were treated to lavish displays of local specialities, from exquisite calligraphy performed with a special ink, to photobooths that transformed users into ninjas — the deadly black-clad assassins of Japan’s feudal era.