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Known in the U.S. as “Rahmbo” for his aggressive manner, Ambassador Emanuel shows other aspects of himself in Japan

By Sakajiri Nobuyoshi, member of the Editorial Board


It was slightly after 3:30 p.m. on a weekday. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel finished his coffee at a Ginza café and walked to the Tokyo Metro Higashi-Ginza Station on the second basement floor of the Kabukiza Tower. He passed through the ticket gate, stood on the Hibiya Line platform, and then shifted his gaze to the electronic bulletin board that reports the operational status of the train.




If the train were going to arrive late—even if only slightly—the electronic bulletin board would inform the people on the platform and give an explanation. Emanuel praises Japan’s public transportation system for being convenient, clean, and responsive to every detail of passengers’ needs.


Although a “VIP,” Emanuel frequently uses trains and subways


Emanuel boards the Hibiya Line train and heads for Toranomon Hills Station, which opened two years ago. He grabs hold of the strap. Two stations later, two seats in front of him become vacant. Emanuel calls out to two women standing by the door and invites them to take empty seats. He is full of smiles, and he is paying attention to everything around him.


That day, Emanuel tweeted, “Hello, Higashi-Ginza Station! First time taking the Hibiya Line, a Tokyo classic. A new station, a new train line, same Japanese perfection. A perfect 10 for 10 on my train rides in Japan for on-time arrival.”


Emanuel presented his credentials to the Emperor at the Imperial Palace in March, but he actually arrived in Japan on Jan. 23. On Feb. 1, after his quarantine period had ended, he walked over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the “next ambassador to Japan.” The U.S. Ambassador to Japan can be regarded as one of the top foreign VIPs in Japan. Usually, ambassadors are guarded by police and travel in an official embassy vehicle. Emanuel, however, often strolls to Kasumigaseki and other places that are within walking distance from the U.S. Embassy, and he frequently uses trains, subways, and other public transportation.


Ambassador becomes a hot topic on SNS: Is the Ambassador a “train buff”?!


The first railroad he rode was the Keihin Kyuko. On Feb. 17, he traveled from Shinagawa to Yokosuka with his wife, Amy, to speak to the U.S. Navy Command in Japan and the U.S. Seventh Fleet. “Today’s commute to Yokosuka was my first train ride as Ambassador. #Japan’s world-class rail system is worthy of a world-class country. It did not disappoint.” he tweeted.


With that tweet, he soon became a hot topic on SNS: He could have taken a Green Car if he had taken the JR East’s Yokosuka Line, so why did he use the Keihin Kyuko? Is the Ambassador a “train buff”?!


On another day, he took the JR East Tokaido Line to Yokohama. He has since ridden JR Central’s Shinkansen to Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. “I’ve ridden trains across the United States and Europe, and you haven’t ridden a train until you’re on the Shinkansen,” he tweeted.


While in Osaka and Hyogo, he used the subway and Hankyu train and tweeted, “Love the really plush seats! Hankyu very much.” [Pleased by the tweet] the president of Hankyu Railway apparently gave Emanuel a Hankyu train seat cover.


Known as “Rahmbo” in U.S. political circles; inspired character in U.S. TV drama


In U.S. political circles, Emanuel has been given the nickname “Rahmbo,” playing on the name of a popular series of U.S. films. The protagonist in the films was a muscular Vietnam vet played by actor Sylvester Stallone; this became one of the roles Stallone is most remembered for. It is not necessarily a compliment, however, for a politician to be called “Rahmbo.”


From 1993 to 1998, Emanuel served as Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy during the Clinton administration. Since that time, he has been known for his aggressive political style, including vigorously refuting dissenting opinions. One of the characters in an American TV drama set in the White House is said to be based on him. At that time, Emanuel was a top White House official known for his strong personality.


In 2002, he was elected to the House of Representatives from Illinois, his home state. He served in the position for three terms or six years. When the Obama administration was inaugurated in 2009, Emanuel returned to the White House and became the White House Chief of Staff, the highest-ranking staff member [at the White House]. He was influential as one of President Barack Obama’s closest aides.


He was elected Mayor of Chicago in 2011 and reelected in 2015.


“Experiencing Japan means meeting people”


The image of Emanuel as strong and aggressive may be well established, but he has shown a completely different side of himself since taking office as ambassador to Japan.


In addition to using public transportation, he walks through markets and shopping districts in the towns and cities he visits in Japan. He says this is because “experiencing Japan means meeting people where they work, where they commute, and where they shop.”


According to someone at the U.S. Embassy, he prefers restaurants and coffee shops catering to regular folks over restaurants and lounges at luxury hotels. When he eats out for lunch, he orders a set menu at nationwide Japanese-style pub franchises, such as the yakitori set, the fried chicken “karaage” set, the sashimi set, or the “negitoro” rice bowl topped with minced tuna and Welsh onion.


Regarding his preference for walking and taking public transportation, he said on Twitter, “Doing my part for the environment by walking to meet Environment Minister Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi. Each one of us can and must make a difference to protect the environment and stop the climate crisis.”


A “tough negotiator”?


Emanuel is proactive in meeting every day with key figures in the Japanese political and business world as well as other fields to exchange opinions and gather information. In this context, one of his strong points is that he is “close” to President Joe Biden. When the U.S. President arrived in Japan in May, he descended the ramp from Air Force One, which had landed at the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base, and he immediately hugged Emanuel, who was there to welcome him. This scene clearly showed the close relationship the two share.


“I have known the President for a long time. I’m proud to call him a dear friend,” said Emanuel in his video greeting to the people of Japan, which was released soon after his arrival in the country. At the online summit meeting between Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and President Joe Biden held right before Emanuel was appointed ambassador, Biden told Prime Minister Kishida that he had “complete trust” in Emanuel, who was also present at the meeting.


“These are extremely powerful words. Honestly, I was surprised,” said a Japanese government official who later heard the words. “Even among the other [U.S.] ambassadors Japan has welcomed over the years, Emanuel is a standout for his strong bond with the President. Moreover, given his experience and skills in U.S. politics, the Ambassador will be a dependable presence for Japan. It is possible he will be a formidable negotiating partner.”


While serving as Mayor of Chicago, Emanuel reportedly used to commute by train twice a week. He is a man that makes things happen. He gets out and looks with his own eyes at the situation on the ground. Emanuel will continue to be the focus of attention [in the days ahead].

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