New Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has built-in following in Japan

TOKYO -- In the late 1980s, when Katsumi Suzuki was 20, he was mesmerized when he heard a recording of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.

“I heard the words ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ and those were the most inspiring words I’ve ever heard,” said Suzuki, a 46-year-old office worker. “I have been a loyal Kennedy fan -- of JFK and his family -- ever since, for the last 26 years.”

Suzuki is not alone. President Kennedy is still remembered fondly by many in Japan, which gives a built-in base of support to the new U.S. ambassador, Caroline Kennedy.

Kennedy, the late president’s daughter, signed her appointment papers Tuesday during a private ceremony with Secretary of State John F. Kerry in Washington and is expected to take up her new post in Tokyo this month.

On a recent windy evening in Tokyo, 10 members of the JFK Club Japan gathered at a restaurant to discuss Caroline Kennedy’s arrival and to share their Kennedy memorabilia, many wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with JFK’s profile and name. Some had come from as far as Nagoya, more than 200 miles away.


Among them was Suzuki, who said he owns all of the roughly 300 books published in Japan related to President Kennedy and family members. He estimated that he had spent about $10,000 on his collection.

Suzuki and others, who have met twice a year since 2004, are flying from Japan to Dallas in the coming weeks to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. They have been making pilgrimages to Kennedy-related locations such as Dallas and Washington every five years since 2003, and this year’s will be their third.

Kaname Matsumura, 48, a teacher who runs a test preparation school, heads another fan club called the Kennedy Society.

In addition to maintaining a blog, Matsumura has self-published 25 magazine issues on articles related to the Kennedy family. He said he had spent about $100,000 on Kennedy-related activities.

“I hope Caroline Kennedy, with her liberal views, brings good influence and balance to the nationalism movement in Japan happening right now under the ruling political party, but I’m simply happy a Kennedy family member is coming to Japan,” Matsumura said.

Foreign policy experts in Japan are also upbeat about the impending arrival.

Caroline Kennedy’s presence could be a huge plus for women in Japan, said Hiroshi Tsuchida, a professor of American government at Josai International University.

With very few women in politics in Japan, Kennedy could be a role model and inspire more women to enter politics and participate in society, Tsuchida said.

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2013, which was released last month, ranks Japan 105th out of 136 countries. The report ranks countries based on how successfully women are making gains in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

Only one country belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked lower than Japan: South Korea, at No. 111.

Takashi Inoguchi, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said the most important job for a U.S. ambassador to Japan is maintaining a good communication pipeline with the American president. By that measure, he said, Kennedy will be a “perfect match.”

Mikio Haruna, visiting professor of journalism at Waseda University, said Kennedy benefits from near-universal fondness in Japan for her father. “No one in Japan is opposed to her appointment,” he said.

Fumio Matsuo, former Washington bureau chief for the Japanese wire service Kyodo News, said he hoped Kennedy would be able to persuade President Obama to visit the atomic bomb site in Hiroshima, making him the first American president to do so.

“I would like to see [Obama] visit the city of Hiroshima and make a floral offering,” Matsuo said, adding that it would be “a historic move.”


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