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The 41st US Ambassador to Japan

Posted July. 16, 2013 05:18,   


A U.S. Ambassador to Japan was stabbed in his thigh by a mentally-ill Japanese man and he got a blood transfusion in March 1964. The ambassador said, “Now, I have Japanese in my blood.” He once considered retirement but he worked 29 more months in Japan, saying, “If I quit, Japanese would feel guilty about the incident.” Japanese praised him. He was Edwin O. Reischauer. Since the “Reischauer incident,” Japan banned selling blood and started blood donation. It turned out that he was infected with hepatitis after blood transfusion.

Reischauer was a Japan expert as he was born as the second son of an American missionary in Tokyo and majored and taught Japanese history at Harvard University. He is remembered as an ambassador who loved Japan most and is most respected by Japan. He also has a relationship with Korea because he proposed McCune-Reischauer Romanization for Korean in 1939.

Japan had 40 U.S. ambassadors ranging from Townsend Harris in 1859 to today’s John Roos. The first 12 ambassadors were ministers resident and ministers extraordinary and plenipotentiary. The position was promoted to ambassadors extraordinary and plenipotentiary in 1906, as they are today. Washington tends to send bigwigs to Japan as an ambassador. It is partly because of the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance but many candidates want the position because they long for Japanese culture. U.S. ambassadors to Japan include many celebrities such as George Douglas MacArthur II, the cousin of General MacArthur, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former House Speaker Tom Foley, former Senate Speaker Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker, and Robert Ingersoll, a millionaire businessman.

It is a news that Caroline Kennedy, 55, former President John F. Kennedy’s eldest daughter, has been nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Japan. She has been to Japan only for her honeymoon in 1986 but Japan seems to welcome her as a superstar. Some criticize that a diplomat with little knowledge about Japan took the important position. But she seems to be already successful enough with the halo effect of her father and being the first female U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Senior Editorial Writer Shim Kyu-seon (ksshim@donga.com)