January 18, 2017
TOKYO (AFP) - Caroline Kennedy on Wednesday stepped down as US ambassador to Japan, the embassy said, ending a three-year tenure for the rookie envoy who was welcomed into the job with movie-star fanfare.
The sole surviving child of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy took up the post in November 2013 as her boss, Barack Obama, focused on Asia in the face of a rising China and unpredictable North Korea.
Despite being wartime enemies, the US and Japan are close allies and thousands lined the streets of Tokyo to catch a glimpse of Kennedy when she arrived to start the job. The event was broadcast live on television.
Kennedy's replacement has not yet been appointed by incoming US leader Donald Trump.
A first-time envoy, Kennedy, 59, had a high profile in Japan and regularly visited the northeast, which was devastated by the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster.
She also participated in memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the targets of the US atomic bombing in the final days of World War II.
Last year, Kennedy joined President Obama on an historic visit to Hiroshima, the first serving US president to do so.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, accompanied by Obama, visited Pearl Harbor in December, opening a new diplomatic chapter for the two former enemies -- 75 years after Japan's surprise attack that led to America's entrance into the war.
"I think that both the president's visit to Hiroshima and the prime minister's visit to Pearl Harbor really show how far our two countries have come together," she said in an interview with the top-selling Yomiuri newspaper published Wednesday.
"To be able to be at both of those events during my ambassadorship, I feel so incredibly fortunate and privileged."
Kennedy also witnessed tense negotiations over moving a major US military base in Okinawa, which hosts more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.
Despite the two countries' close relationship, the presence of US troops has led to diplomatic flare-ups.
The popular diplomat raised eyebrows in 2014 when she expressed concerns on social media about what she called the "inhumaneness" of a Japanese village's traditional dolphin hunt.
Japan's whaling and dolphin hunting is a sore point in relations with many Western nations including the United States.