Some unimpressed with 'Caroline Kennedy fever'

TOKYO —

“Fevers” come and fevers go. Japan is especially prone to them, says Shukan Shincho (Jan 30). Still fresh in the collective memory are: “Makiko Tanaka fever,” “Junichiro Koizumi fever,” “Toru Hashimoto fever” – the once frenzied, now forgotten or much deflated adulation surrounding these individuals (a former foreign minister, a foreign prime minister and the current Osaka mayor, respectively).

Japan’s latest fever? “Caroline Kennedy fever.” Her surname counts for a good deal, of course. She is heiress to “John F Kennedy fever,” an unusually enduring variety, still burning 50 years after JFK’s death.

Her gender is significant too. She is the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan. A brisk easy charm rounds out the picture of a woman poised to symbolize and accomplish much. Her appointment in November kindled instant enthusiasm. Some 6,000 people lined the streets to gawk at her horse-drawn carriage as it rumbled by en route to the Imperial Palace for formalities.

Shukan Shincho casts a cool eye on all this. It is underwhelmed. What, it asks, has Caroline done two months into her tenure? Played much and worked little, is its verdict.

There was an early visit to Tohoku areas still suffering nearly three years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear meltdowns of March 2011. That impressed, as did Kennedy’s statement soon afterwards to the effect that Japan is the one country in the world she most wanted to work in.

That Japan can be fun has indeed, in Shukan Shincho’s view, been the main theme of her tenure so far. Concerts, skiing. Paul McCartney in November; the Japanese pop trio Perfume in December; Niseko, the Hokkaido ski resort, in January.

Dec 26 found her in Kyoto on a private sightseeing tour. Even ambassadors have private lives, and the concerts and skiing, so long as they’re outside working hours, are her own business – though the extended length of her New Year’s break did draw some arch comment. The trip to Kyoto, however, poses a problem.

Kennedy arrived at Kyoto’s Kamigamo Shrine at 12:30 p.m. on Dec 26. This was decidedly not outside working hours. Barely an hour earlier, another notable figure had arrived at another Shinto shrine. The figure in question was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The shrine: Tokyo’s Yasukuni.

A prime ministerial visit to Yasukuni shrine, center of the religious aura Japan gave its early 20th-century imperialism and militarism, has enormous repercussions. It provokes fear and loathing in Asia – in China and Korea especially – to which the U.S., bound by treaty to protect Japan, can hardly be indifferent. Abe’s visit was in defiance of repeated American requests that he abstain. Later, the U.S. registered its “disappointment” – a strong word, in diplomatic parlance.

As Shukan Shincho points out, Abe’s intention to visit the shrine had been widely rumored, with Dec 26 noted as a likely date – it marked the first anniversary of the electoral triumph that brought Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party back to power. Was that a time, the weekly asks, for the U.S. ambassador to indulge in private sightseeing? As it happened, it adds, the embassy’s No. 2 official was away that day too – skiing.

“An insult to Japan” is how Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under President Bill Clinton, characterized Kennedy’s appointment, according to Shukan Shincho. How long, the magazine wonders, is “Caroline fever” likely to last?

  • 11

    John Andresen

    Sounds a bit petulant. Seriously?

  • 13

    JeffLee

    Huh? Well, this article is anti-climatic. Where's mention of the anti-dolphin hunt tweet, etc?

    "Shukan Shincho...is underwhelmed."

    That's ironic. I'm pretty underwhelmed by Shukan Shincho.

  • 6

    Amidalism

    I can understand that people are not happy about her visiting a shrine in Kyoto during work hours, but do not see the need to compare it to Abe visiting Yasukuni. I highly doubt there are any American war criminals interred at Kamogami that she was paying reverence to. Or is the spin to the article supposed to be "If she can visit a shrine during hours, why can't Abe?"

  • 5

    tideofiron

    This reads like a hit piece by some right wing nut who is butthurt that America dared to say anything bad about Abe's Yasukuni visit.

  • 15

    marcelito

    Unthinkable - foreigners have winter holidays , sometimes even on December 26th..what outrage.

  • -8

    IparryU

    LOL the 26th? That is the day after Christmas and barely anyone works...

  • 9

    slumdog

    That is the day after Christmas and barely anyone works...

    In Japan? Lots of people working.

  • 0

    MrBum

    My impression was that the article is implying that she should've been urging Abe not to visit or at least seem troubled by it as opposed to going sightseeing. I suppose they have a point since an ambassador doesn't have much to do other than smooth over foreign relations.

  • 2

    CMialon5

    This article is very confusing. It completely ignores WHY Ambassador Caroline Kennedy would cause Japanese people a "fever". Why would it leave out the most recent reason for this "fever" which is the tweet that was heard around the globe condemning the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. The Japan Daily Times isn't afraid to expose the truth to the Japanese people. Today they published a cartoon portraying the global perception of Japan with a dead bloody dolphin. The people reading this article should be suspicious as to the credibility of this news outlet.

  • 1

    CrazyJoe

    A lot of people go eek eek! (interjection) when they see a celebrity. How pathetic.

  • 2

    TorafusuTorasan

    Could barely get past the first paragraph. Out of the three "fevers" they mentioned, the only one I can see a parallel is Makiko Tanaka (national leader dad but doesn't approach dad in political attainment). The other two examples--Junichiro Koizumi and Toru Hashimoto--are way off topic.

    Koizumi was the longest serving prime minister in the Heisei era, around five years. That staying power was more than a flash in the pan fever. People took Koizumi seriously, even if not all his policies panned out. Even in retirement, Koizumi's views on nuclear power or the Tokyo governor's election are still widely and soberly broadcast.

    Hashimoto is still in the middle of roiling the establishment powers in Osaka and nationally, just this week engaging in high stakes poker against former ally New Komeito by trying to force an early merger referendum via his early resignation, potential reelection, etc. I disagree with his politics, but I can see that he is more entrenched politically than the usual bland cabinet minister. He has been driving policy debate for years, so the term fever seems wrong.

  • 1

    hatsoff

    I can understand that people are not happy about her visiting a shrine in Kyoto during work hours, but do not see the need to compare it to Abe visiting Yasukuni. I highly doubt there are any American war criminals interred at Kamogami that she was paying reverence to. Or is the spin to the article supposed to be "If she can visit a shrine during hours, why can't Abe?"

    I think the spin to the part regarding Yasukuni is that she should have been better prepared or advised about that date, as it was known to mark the anniversary of Abe's election and it was known he might choose to visit Yaskuni. Therefore, it was more likely to be on that date than on another. But the article is poorly written...

  • 3

    gaijinfo

    Drama attempt - FAIL

  • 5

    philly1

    The perception that Kennedy was or should be working might have been the author's cultural misreading of the situation. The finger-wagging is quite unnecessary. Of course, Japanese people usually work on the 26th as it is not a holiday or date of any significance in Japan. But in the West the 26th is Boxing Day and usually part of the Christmas holiday.

    It's not uncommon for many--especially high ranking people--to take the entire period from the 24th or earlier to the 2nd of January off. Where was Obama (her boss)? On holiday in Hawaii with his family. In the West, people take and enjoy the holidays to which they are entitled (as excessive as that might seem to someone not accustomed to having and exercising that right). It's quite likely that Kennedy was doing just that. Nothing more.

    In fact, the author of the article might learn from Kennedy's example of a work - life balance. It's one aspect of acculturation that is more agreeable than some others.

  • 4

    lincolnman

    Yes, it appears the glow has worn off after her over-the=top welcome. Certainly her criticism of Abe's Yasukuni visit and the dolphin slaughter has put her on the wrong side of all the Abe cheerers and their right wing cohorts.

    What most Japanese don't realize however is that Ambassadors are merely mouthpieces for their respective governments - whatever Kennedy said, was transmitted to her to say from the State Dept and vetted with the White House - it was not her "opinion"..........

  • -3

    smithinjapan

    I bet more than half were proud about her being ambassador until the dolphin hunt tweet.

  • -4

    sangetsu03

    Kennedy's resume was even thinner than Obama's, great things can't be expected from either.

    An ambassador isn't merely a "mouthpiece", particularly in a country which is the world's third largest economy, and especially in a country with as complex and subtle a culture as Japan. Since America is committed to the military defense of Japan, it is incredibly important that the ambassador have the strength of character to strongly influence the Japanese government.

    We can all see how well things have been going between China and Japan recently, and though many here may excuse Kennedy's visit to Kyoto on December 26th, to the Japanese she appeared clueless about what was going to happen. Being able to understand things which are indirectly mentioned is a large part of Japanese culture, and obviously Kennedy doesn't understand how important this is. The Japanese fully expected Abe to attempt to visit Yasukuni on this day, yet Kennedy didn't. This visit greatly inflamed the tension in Asia, and the one who was supposed to be America's voice in the matter was absent.

    With the world's second and third largest economies at odds, building up their military forces, and provoking each other further and further, we need someone far stronger to be America's ambassador.

    Kennedy's appointment as ambassador to Japan is nearly as silly as Gary Coleman being drafted by the NFL, or Barack Obama becoming president of the US.

  • -3

    edbardoe

    The Kennedy's generally have done the same to the USA as John did to Marilyn Monroe. If we can ship them around the globe as ambassadors it seems like a great way to get them out of the country.

  • 0

    budgie

    The Japanese just love dynastic politics in general.

  • 4

    Lowly

    Kennedy arrived at Kyoto’s Kamogami Shrine at 12:30 p.m. on Dec 26

    Maybe you mean the Kamigamo shrine? Proofreading before publishing is a recommended exercise.

    I don't get what this article/ shukan article is complaining about. 1) the 26 is the day after xmas, and not unusual for Americans to have off, not really a surprise that she and the #2 might be on vacation, 2) is that really vacation? a dignitary touring famous places, esp w/ religious/social significance for the natives is generally a to-be-expected work-like function, no? 3) WHY would the j-magazine care whether she had too many days off or not??? She doesn't work for them, she works for the US gov. I can see Americans getting angry about it, but... I personally wouldn't get angry if the J ambassador in Wash. had too many days off... not my business.

    BUT FINALLY, what does the synchronicity of her visit and Abe's to Yasukuni have to do with ANYTHING??

  • -3

    sangetsu03

    BUT FINALLY, what does the synchronicity of her visit and Abe's to Yasukuni have to do with ANYTHING??

    In Japan, China, and Korea it means everything. Westerners (especially Kennedy) seem to know nothing about the complexity of the relationship between these three countries. If these three countries weren't among the largest economies in the world, which maintained large, modern, military forces, it wouldn't be a big issue. But since they are, it is.

    Obama should have chosen an ambassador who understood this relationship, and who could command the respect necessary when representing the world's largest economy. Instead, he sent an inexperienced woman to a male-dominated region at a time of developing tension. But then nothing else which the Obama adminstration has done in the last five years has been much of a success, so I guess it was to be expected.

  • 2

    lincolnman

    To all those who say Ambassador Kennedy lacks experience or knowledge, perhaps you are unaware that most ambassadors are not career diplomats - most are either friends of the current administration, previous government officials/politicians, or successful businessmen or women. The real power broker/experienced diplomat is the Deputy Ambassador or "Deputy Chief of Mission" - this is always a senior career State Dept official who is responsible for day-to-day diplomacy.

  • 3

    karlrb

    The article was really just a poor piece of journalism whose sole goal appeared to be a vehicle where the author could show his/her disapproval of the ambassador publicly enjoying some of the beauty of Japan.

  • 3

    Moondog

    Who says Amb. Kennedy was not working when she visited the shrine? And, for that matter, who says she's not working when she's "home" at her official residence on Sunday mornings reading The Japan Times and the morning dispatches (her daily 'read file')?

    The editors of Shukan Shincho should step back and consider whether of not they "have a clue" before publishing hit pieces.

  • -2

    DaDude

    She lost a lot of fans over the anti-dolphin hunt opinions.

  • 0

    Lowly

    sangetsu--

    Sorry, you didn't explain what her going to the shrine has to do with Abe, at all. It is a different shrine. In a different city. I have never ever heard the Koreans or Chinese complain about any other shrine visits by other people. Only Yasukuni visits by top J gov officials. (Mostly PM or cabinet, even cabinet isn't that bad.)

    I think the US gov is well aware it is a lightening rod issue for other east asian countries, but it is an internal affair, and there isn't much the US can do except wring their hands about it, which they did. I doubt Kennedy knew that Abe was going to go that day, and if they were an hour apart in different cities, it is conceivable she didn't know he'd gone yet, though in this net age, she may have known, but again, as a high level dignitary she can't just cancel her own plans without looking really bad.

    And if she did, would Korea and China have been happy? Did they complain about her going to Kamigamo?

  • -3

    Annie Perriment

    Many in America consider the Kennedy family to be a national embarrassment. They are not universally admired. My mom never failed to mention that "papa Joe" was a bootlegger - and it is true that the Kennedy wealth was built through illegal activities during America's prohibition era and it is now fairly widely recognized that Kennedy money helped buy the 1960 election for JFK. Caroline Kennedy may or may not have any desirable qualities but she is a woman who has spent her entire adult life being a socialite - a wealthy woman who travels and goes to parties. This was painfully obvious during her brief, ignominious attempt to run for the US Senate back in 2009. Her verbal statements were painfully airheaded, lacking even the thin veneer of erudition or sincerity that a good politician can summon when trying to appear knowledgeable about a given topic or relate to "the people." I have no doubt she will excel at the social aspects of being an ambassador - she will give great parties and make a great party guest and will no doubt function as a gracious tourist. At best we can hope she will do no harm during an interesting era of new tensions in the Asia Pacific region. Also, Boxing Day is celebrated in England but not in America. Of course our political overlords are known for their frequent and extended holidays. I expect Ms. Kennedy was simply taking as much vacation time as is typical in the rarified circles in which she has lived her entire life.

  • -3

    sangetsu03

    The article was really just a poor piece of journalism whose sole goal appeared to be a vehicle where the author could show his/her disapproval of the ambassador publicly enjoying some of the beauty of Japan.

    Are people really this stupid? I mean, really?

    The ambassador is not in Japan to sightsee and shop, she is here to work. Abe's visit to Yasakuni was the biggest diplomatic event of the entire year, and America's head diplomat should have expected it.

    Keep on forgiving the incompetence of Kennedy, Abe, and Obama, and see where it all leads.

  • 0

    Strangerland

    The ambassador is not in Japan to sightsee and shop, she is here to work.

    Building good relations is working. Visits like these are press-ops, so that the locals can see the ambassador taking an interest in their culture, thereby improving the overall feelings towards the company that the ambassador represents.

    Unless she was visiting on her own free time, in which case, it was her own free time.

    Abe's visit to Yasakuni was the biggest diplomatic event of the entire year

    Yes, because he visited a shrine dedicated to whitewashing the war, to pray to war criminals. It's an apples to oranges comparison.

  • -1

    Saul Schimek

    Ah yes, The Kennedy's. one of America's Presumptive Royalty. We try to isolate them from anything actually important to minimize the damage they cause

  • -1

    Patricia Lockwood

    Love this,as this never mentioned in America. If I see where I can Face book would love to do .

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