US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy pays a courtesy call on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. [Image: United States Department of State]

Caroline Kennedy Leaves a Strong Legacy After 3 Years as Ambassador to Japan


On January 18, Caroline Kennedy stepped down after three years as US ambassador to Japan. During her tenure, she gained massive popularity with Japanese citizens and played an important role in boosting US-Japan ties.

The first woman to hold the position, she played a significant role in promoting women’s rights and leadership in Japan. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 survey, Japan lags far behind in gender equality, ranking 101 among 135 countries. Japanese women are as well-educated as men, but face major obstacles in climbing the corporate ladder once they get married or have children. Kennedy leveraged her position as ambassador to highlight this issue and push for concrete action. She encouraged high-powered women such as Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, to spread a U.S. brand of self-made powerful women who have prospered in places like Silicon Valley. She reached out to influential women such as Hillary Clinton to deliver speeches on self-motivation. In 2014, Kennedy attended the World Assembly for Women, held in Tokyo, to discuss women’s empowerment under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policy.

Kennedy was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013. As daughter of former US President John F. Kennedy, she was seen as American royalty in Japan. When she arrived in November 2013, people lined the streets to witness her precession, which was broadcast live on NHK. Kennedy worked as a bridge between President Obama and Prime Minister Abe to increase bilateral communication and promote mutual understanding. Part of her legacy is facilitating Obama’s historical visit to Hiroshima as the first US president to pay respects to the victims of the US atomic bombs dropped during World War II. Additionally, in December 2016, with Kennedy’s assistance, the US returned 10,000 acres of Okinawan training grounds to Japan, which was an important step in the Okinawa consolidation plan.

Kennedy delivered a well-received farewell address to the Japanese people, thanking the Emperor and people of Japan for their support and kindness. She plans to return to Manhattan after stepping down, and has not announced any other plans yet.

Xiaoyi Wang is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University.