Photo/IllutrationHokuei Mayor Akio Matsumoto and U.S. comedian Conan O’Brien feast on hamburgers in Hokuei, Tottori Prefecture, on Sept. 6. A Tokyo food company gave 1,000 hamburgers for free to the town after it learned that the mayor had asked the comedian to bring 15,000 hamburgers with him. (Shun Suzuki)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

HOKUEI, Tottori Prefecture--Disgruntled and feeling ripped off, U.S. comedian Conan O’Brien made an unexpected trip here this month for a showdown with the mayor of what is known as “Conan Town.”

Hokuei, with a population of 15,000, gained the nickname because it is the birthplace of Gosho Aoyama, the creator of the hugely popular “Detective Conan” anime and manga character. The character appears all over the town in goods and in the form of statues.

O’Brien took umbrage that the boy detective appeared more well-known in Japan than the U.S talk show host.

“If you Google ‘Conan’ in any country, I am the first thing that comes up … except in one country … Japan,” O’Brien said on his Aug. 20 show. “I just learned, in Japan, the first thing that comes up if you Google ‘Conan’ is a manga and anime character named Detective Conan.”

The “Detective Conan” (aka “Case Closed”) manga series has sold more than 200 million copies worldwide since its debut in Japan in 1994. Many anime adaptations have been created for TV and theaters.

However, O’Brien grumbled that he first started appearing on TV a year earlier than the release of the manga, and that someone has been making a fortune off the Asian version of him for nearly a quarter century, calling it a “rip off.”

He demanded the town send a check for 3 trillion yen ($27 billion) to the “more famous Conan” to “make the whole ugly business go away” and “keep this thing out of court.”

But that wasn’t the end of the shtick.

Christopher Hollis, a 39-year-old American who works at the town government’s education and general affairs section, learned about O’Brien’s gripe through his friends back in the United States.

Hollis suggested to Hokuei Mayor Akio Matsumoto that the town respond with humor to the comedian’s joke.

The mayor heeded the advice.

In a video posted on YouTube on Aug. 24, Matsumoto, in English, urged O’Brien to visit Hokuei, using the “come here” gesture if he wanted to collect the money.

“Be there … or be square,” Matsumoto said with a grin.

O’Brien played the mayor’s video on his show and pledged to travel to Japan to pick up the money.

He showed up in the town in western Japan on Sept. 6.

After O’Brien arrived at the mayor’s office, Matsumoto pulled out a briefcase and handed it to the comedian as “something I promised to give.”

The case was empty, except for a single seed from a Daiei watermelon, a local specialty.

Matsumoto reasoned with the visitor that he can gross more than 3 trillion yen with the tiny seed after four years.

The mayor’s logic was that a watermelon usually produces 1,000 seeds. A watermelon grown from the single seed will leave 1,000 seeds a year later--and 1 million seeds in two years.

In four years, O’Brien could collect 1 trillion seeds.

“You will gain more than 3 trillion yen if you grow watermelons from those seeds and sell them,” Matsumoto said.

It appeared that the mayor had cashed in on a rare encounter with a widely popular celebrity to pitch a local specialty to a broader audience.

O’Brien’s trip is expected to go on air in the United States.

O’Brien did not look bothered, though. He appeared rather impressed by the mayor’s wit.

After the meeting, O’Brien kept getting reminders about how popular Detective Conan was in the town, starting with a visit to JR Yura Station, which is nicknamed Conan Station.

But O’Brien is not without his own Japanese fans.

A crowd of his fans waited at the station after learning about his trip on social networking sites.

An applause erupted when O’Brien spoke to them in Japanese, “I am honored to come to Hokuei.”

Switching to English, he said: “Thank you for welcoming me to your beautiful town. You have shown me great respect and hospitality.”

O’Brien stayed in the town for only around six hours, but he appeared to have enjoyed every minute of his sojourn.

He departed from Tottori Airport, which is nicknamed the Tottori Sand Dunes Conan Airport in tribute to the famed dunes and the manga character.