By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Caroline Kennedy, daughter of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy, arrived in Japan on Friday to take up her first high profile job in public office, making a late start to a political career for which her family is renowned.
Kennedy, sworn in as U.S. ambassador two days ago, received a warm welcome at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, smiling and waving at reporters, and carrying a bouquet of flowers.
The 55-year-old lawyer takes up the post a week before the 50th anniversary of her father’s assassination.
Kennedy, the first female U.S. ambassador to Japan, was an early and prominent supporter of Barack Obama in his initial quest for the presidency in 2008, and also campaigned for him.
“I bring greetings from President Obama … I am honored to represent him as the United States ambassador,” she said. “I am also proud to carry forward my father’s legacy of public service.”
Kennedy worked briefly for education authorities in New York, and contemplated, but later abandoned, a run for a New York Senate seat in 2009.
In a video greeting to the people of Japan released on the internet on Wednesday, Kennedy said she had studied Japanese art and history, and made several trips to Japan, including a visit to Hiroshima – where the first atomic bomb was dropped – when she was 20.
“It left me with a profound desire to work for a better, more peaceful world,” she said, adding that she had also visited Japan on her honeymoon.
Though Caroline’s father visited Japan once in 1951, he never visited the country in the nearly three years that he was president – a sharp contrast to the present, when most presidents visit within months of taking office.
Despite this, President Kennedy was popular, his youth appealing to an economically booming Japan, newly confident as it prepared to host the Summer Olympic Games in 1964.
A state visit was planned for January 1964, and an advance team, including then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk, was in the air en route to Tokyo for talks when Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963. The plane turned around in mid-Pacific and headed back.
Previous ambassadors to Japan have included political heavyweights such as former Vice President Walter Mondale, but Japan welcomed Kennedy’s nomination since they felt her closeness to Obama would be an advantage.
“The Japanese people feel closest to her father of all presidents, and in that sense I’d like to offer my hearty welcome,” said chief cabinet spokesman Yoshihide Suga at a news conference on Friday.
“I think she’s a wonderful ambassador to develop the Japan-U.S. relationship further as she is said to be able to talk directly with the president by phone.”
Caroline is the only surviving child of President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Her brother John F. Kennedy, Jr, died in a 1999 plane crash, while an older sister was stillborn and another brother died within days of his premature birth while Kennedy was president.