Tokyo (AFP) – Caroline Kennedy met Japan’s Emperor Akihito Tuesday as thousands of well-wishers lined the streets of Tokyo to catch a glimpse of the incoming U.S. ambassador.
Kennedy, 55, the lone surviving child of the assassinated John F. Kennedy, traveled to the downtown Imperial Palace by horse-drawn carriage in an elaborate procession, accompanied by palace officials clad in European-style ceremonial attire.
In a rare public display of affection for a foreign dignitary, throngs of cheering spectators with cameras lined the wide boulevards leading to the heart of the Japanese capital.
Well-wishers hollered “Kennedy-san! Kennedy-san!”, as the procession weaved its way along the streets with Kennedy, wearing a dark dress and pearl necklace, waving from inside the carriage.
Kennedy briefly met the revered emperor to hand him a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama confirming her status, a common diplomatic gesture by top envoys.
“I just was honored to present my credentials to his majesty and I’m eager to begin my work as ambassador,” she told reporters after the meeting.
“It’s a wonderful ceremony and I’m honored to represent my country.”
Kennedy’s appointment, which comes days before the 50th anniversary on November 22nd of her father’s assassination in Dallas, has drawn significant media attention in Japan, with several national broadcasters providing live coverage of the procession.
“I’m very excited to have seen her because I was a big fan of her mother Jacqueline-san,” said Shizuko Harada, 68, who was among the thousands of onlookers.
New ambassadors to Japan are offered the choice of the elaborate carriage ride along a 1.1 mile route from near the central Tokyo station, or a car ride from their residence.
Most choose the carriage ride.
Kennedy arrived in Tokyo on Friday and told reporters she was hoping to bolster Washington’s alliance with Tokyo.
“It is a special honor for me to be able to work to strengthen the close ties between our two great countries,” Kennedy said upon her arrival.
“Our alliance is critical to a prosperous and peaceful world,” she added in a brief speech, accompanied by her husband, Edwin Schlossberg.
Kennedy is the first female U.S. ambassador to the Asian giant, which consistently ranks lower than other wealthy nations on women’s empowerment in politics and business.
Her appointment has been hailed in Japan, although some critics have voiced concern at having a diplomatic novice in the important post at a time of high tensions between Japan and a rising China.
Kennedy has largely shunned the limelight, although she has publicly championed her family’s brand of progressive politics.
She played a pivotal role in the Democratic Party’s primary in 2008, where she was an early and vocal backer of Obama against perceived front-runner Hillary Clinton.