TOKYO (AP) — Caroline Kennedy is stepping down Wednesday after three years as U.S. ambassador to Japan, where she was welcomed like a celebrity and worked to deepen the U.S.-Japan relationship despite regular flare-ups over American military bases on the southern island of Okinawa.
She ruffled some feathers early on by tweeting her opposition to Japan's dolphin hunt, shortly after her embassy issued a statement expressing "disappointment" that Japan's leader had visited a shrine that memorializes World War II war criminals, among others.
During her tenure, though, the conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and liberal U.S. President Barack Obama built a relationship of trust despite coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
"She has great skills and authority as a convener, a much needed function in U.S.-Japan relations," said Kent Calder, the director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. "She has been more of a network builder than a concrete policy initiator, but that is almost an inevitable role for ambassadors these days."
Her legacy includes facilitating Obama's historic visit to Hiroshima last May, one of two Japanese cities devastated by U.S. atomic bombs in 1945, Calder said. Kennedy was in Pearl Harbor at the end of last year when Abe reciprocated with a visit to the site of Japan's 1941 surprise attack that drew America into World War II.
On a smaller scale, some will remember the efforts of the first female U.S. ambassador to Japan to promote literacy and women's and LGBT rights, and for her visits to the northeast region slowly recovering from a deadly and destructive tsunami in 2011.
The daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy arrived in November 2013 to more fanfare than the typical envoy. Thousands of onlookers lined streets to snap pictures and wave as she traveled by horse-drawn carriage to present her credentials to Japan's emperor. The procession was broadcast live on Japan's public broadcaster NHK.
Her popularity strained embassy resources, a 2015 U.S. government report found, because of the demands for her participation in events across the country. It noted that the embassy "has now caught up on the backlog of gifts sent to the ambassador in her first six months in Japan."
Now 59, Kennedy is returning to her Manhattan home with husband Edwin Schlossberg, who split his time between Tokyo and New York. She hasn't indicated publicly what her future plans are.