WASHINGTON (AP) — Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan and daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, leaves for Japan on Thursday to begin her work to strengthen the critical bond between the U.S. and the Asian nation.
"We just had a tea ceremony which was a wonderful introduction to the Japanese culture," Kennedy said Tuesday night at a reception at the Japanese ambassador's residence.
"My husband and I and my children are so excited to be going to Japan," she said in brief remarks to reporters. "We look forward to meeting as many people as we can, to making new friends, visiting and studying the history and culture of this beautiful country that is such a strong partner to the United States in so many important efforts."
Kennedy, who was confirmed by the Senate last month, was nominated for the ambassador's job by President Barack Obama after playing a role in his re-election campaign. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a swearing-in ceremony for Kennedy on Tuesday afternoon at the State Department.
At the reception later, Kerry noted that Kennedy's father battled Japanese forces as a Navy officer in World War II.
"The daughter of a heroic lieutenant in World War II will be the first woman, in the next generation after the war, to represent our country in a relationship that symbolizes so much more than just a normal diplomatic relationship," Kerry said. "This is a symbol of reconciliation, symbol of possibilities, a symbol of people who know how to move past ... look to the future and build a future together."
He said he reminded Kennedy earlier in the day that the first time he met her was when she was a child in the 1960s, getting ready to ride her pony named Macaroni, and he backed into her and stepped on her foot. He said she broke into tears.
"So I am really excited, as the president is, that Caroline is going to be heading over there to represent this relationship at a critical time — with the rebalance to Asia, global marketplace and competition therein, the efforts to deal with North Korea ... challenges of the South China Sea, challenges of climate change."
Kennedy, 55, an attorney and best-selling book editor, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a September confirmation hearing that she would work to strengthen the crucial bond between the United States and its Asian ally on trade, the military and student exchanges.
Japan is the United States' fourth-largest trading partner and home to the Navy's 7th Fleet and 50,000 American troops.
Her predecessors include the late Sen. Mike Mansfield, former Sens. Walter Mondale and Howard Baker and the late House Speaker Tom Foley. She replaced John Roos, a wealthy former Silicon Valley lawyer and top Obama campaign fundraiser.
Kennedy's confirmation to the post brought a third generation of her family into the U.S. diplomatic corps. Her grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassador to Britain and her aunt Jean Kennedy Smith was ambassador to Ireland under President Bill Clinton.
Kennedy was five days shy of her sixth birthday when her father was assassinated, and she lived most of the rest of her life in New York City. She earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University, got a law degree from Columbia University, married exhibit designer Edwin Schlossberg and had three children.
She is president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and chairs the senior advisory committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard. She has served on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations, helped raise millions of dollars for New York schools and edited numerous bestselling books on history, law and poetry.