(Excerpt) As for many American ambassadors in Japan, one of Ms. Kennedy’s biggest challenges came in dealing with the complex dynamics of Okinawa, which hosts nearly half of the roughly 50,000 American troops in Japan.
In December, Ms. Kennedy presided over a ceremony in which the United States officially returned nearly 10,000 acres of land in Okinawa to Japan. The handover upset some residents because the Japanese government agreed to build six new helicopter landing pads on the acres that the United States retained to use in jungle warfare training.
Some residents in Okinawa said they had hoped Ms. Kennedy would be more sympathetic to protesters who want the American military to greatly reduce its footprint.
“We had a hope when she was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Japan, as a daughter of the symbol of democracy,” said Tomohiro Yara, a freelance writer and activist in Okinawa. “Sorry, the symbol was only a symbol.”
Ms. Kennedy said she understood the anger. “You may not hear it, but I think that certainly we did take actual practical steps,” she said, including the return of other land on Okinawa and moving an aircraft hangar to reduce noise. “So hopefully people will see that the U.S. is committed to making progress, reducing our presence.”