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Ambassador Kennedy will be remembered for skill in coordinating between Washington and Tokyo regarding U.S. military base issues

  • January 10, 2017
  • , Sankei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

With Donald Trump taking office as U.S. president on Jan. 20, all U.S. ambassadors appointed by President Barack Obama will vacate their posts, including U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. Ambassador Kennedy will have a farewell audience with the Emperor and Empress at the Imperial Palace on Jan. 10.


Reputation briefly dropped


Despite her lack of political and government experience, Caroline Kennedy is influential in the Democratic Party in the United States. Thus when she became ambassador in November 2013 the Japanese government had high expectations for her  as “someone who could have direct contact with core players in the Obama administration,” according to a high-ranking Ministry of Foreign Affairs official.


Soon after her arrival, however, something contrary to Japan’s expectations occurred. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine in December of that same year, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo issued a statement saying it was “disappointed” by the Japanese leader’s action. The embassy explained that its statement expressed the sentiments of the White House. With this, some questioned the strength of the connection between Kennedy and Washington.


As time passed, however, her reputation as being skillful in coordinating between Washington and Tokyo grew. Particularly regarding the issue of the U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, Kennedy advocated the Japanese government position to the United States military and government, which were reluctant to allow security measures to be influenced by the domestic situation in Japan.


Regarding the relocation of helipads, a condition for the return of the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area (Higashi and other villages), she sought to have the restart of construction postponed so it would not impact the July 2016 Upper House election. Kennedy is also said to have taken action to delay the deployment of F-22 Raptors to Kadena Air Base (straddling Kadena and other municipalities) until after the January 2016 Ginowan City mayoral election.


Paved the way for President’s Hiroshima visit


Ambassador Kennedy worked tirelessly to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance during her tenure. Like her predecessor, John Roos, she attended the Peace Memorial Ceremony held in Hiroshima on August 6. One of her greatest accomplishments was clearing the way for President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in May 2016.


She also emphasized grassroots exchange between Japan and the U.S. as exemplified by her repeated visits to the areas hard hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and her promotion of study abroad.


In response to “drive hunt” dolphin fishing in Taiji Town, Wakayama Prefecture, she tweeted “USG opposes drive hunt fisheries.”  She was criticized by the Japanese side, which said, “She should respect Japanese tradition and culture.”


Ambassador Kennedy is well known as the daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, a charismatic figure in the United States, and people will be watching to see what her next move is after resigning as ambassador to Japan.



Key events during Kennedy’s tenure as U.S. ambassador to Japan


Nov. 15

Installed as ambassador.

Nov. 25

Arrived in Miyagi Prefecture on her first visit as ambassador to the areas stricken by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Dec. 10

Visited Nagasaki, a city struck by an atomic bomb.


Feb. 11

Visited Okinawa Prefecture.

May 14

Toured the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.


Apr. 17

Visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

June 19

Met for the first time with Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga.


Apr. 29

Visited Kumamoto City, which had recently been struck by powerful earthquakes.

May 19

A civilian employee of a U.S. military facility was arrested in connection with the murder of an Okinawan woman.

May 27

President Barack Obama became the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.

Dec. 22

Ceremony held to mark the partial return of the “Northern Training Area,” a U.S. military-exclusive facility in Okinawa.


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