1) Caroline Kennedy has the opportunity to be the most influential ambassador to Japan in 50 years. Edwin O. Reischauer, who was nominated by her father, served as the United States Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966. He is the gold standard by which any subsequent ambassador to Japan has been measured. The Japanese adored his service because he was a Harvard Japanologist and expert in East Asian Studies. He was born in Tokyo, Japan to Presbyterian missionaries. Caroline Kennedy does not have the academic or political expertise in Japan/East Asian Studies of Reischauer but she doesn't need it. She's the sole survivor of the most influential political family of 20th century America. Her diplomatic education began at birth when her parents Jack and Jackie welcomed their firstborn.
2) Kennedy will play to her strengths. Her strengths are in education and culture. She has the possibility to serve as a highly effective cultural mediator between the United States and Japan. Remember, this is the woman whose op-ed in the New York Times, "A President Like My Father," helped to slow down the Hillary Clinton inevitability train and put Barack Obama in the White House. She has the magic touch and good timing. She is smart enough to avoid political controversy so I don't anticipate major foreign policy speeches other than expected platitudes about this most important bilateral alliance. She will focus more on Japan's national pride as a cultural and soft power superpower, thereby matching her strengths to theirs.
3) She will emulate Reischauer's educational style. Ambassador Reischauer was a highly respected professor at America's most elite higher education institution, but he was also a public educator. His book, Japan: Story of a Nation, had wide appeal. As the first female ambassador, I anticipate that Ambassador Caroline Kennedy will work to build bridges with the educators, journalists, and writers who are dedicated to understanding the changes that are happening in Japan, particularly involving gender equality. Her mere presence as America's top female diplomat in Japan will speak volumes to a society that is talking as much these days about Womenomics as it is Abenomics.
4) Kennedy will stay true to her dynasty legacy but also transcend it. Caroline Kennedy arrives in Tokyo one week before the 50th anniversary of the assassination of her father, John F. Kennedy, in Dallas. It's hard to predict what she might do next Friday, November 22nd. She may meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who surely remembers the Kennedy years of his youth, and perhaps its most tragic day. Many Japanese of a certain age can recall watching the events in Dallas unfold on television across Japan. The first use of live satellite coverage came on November 22, 1963, when reports on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy were broadcast live on the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai or NHK). NHK's early adoption of satellite technology and the ability of many Japanese to afford television sets, which was quite unusual for the rest of developing Asia, united the two countries in what was one of America's most shocking and sorrowful moments in history. Had he lived, JFK would have been the first American president to visit Japan in early 1964. Members of his Cabinet, who were on their way to Tokyo on November 22, 1963 in advance of his visit, had to turn around in mid-flight to attend Kennedy's funeral. Caroline will finish the sojourn her father never completed, but also make her own mark as a wife, mother of three, multiple book author, lawyer, humanitarian, and patron of the arts and culture. (It's no surprise that she and husband Ed Schlossberg chose to visit Japan's cultural capital, Kyoto, for their honeymoon.)
5) Caroline Kennedy will greatly enhance Brand Japan. Kennedy is arriving to a country in great need now of a major wow factor. Japan is going through some serious soul-searching about its future and whether or not it will be ready for its post-3/11 and post-Fukushima nuclear power plant unveiling at the 2020 Olympics. There is a great deal of anticipation and buzz surrounding her appointment. Kennedy has had 55 years to prepare for this moment and I, for one, am looking forward to the CK Watch. (She turns 56 on November 27, 2013.) The Japanese government, which is more focused on nation branding and Cool Japan initiatives these days, should assign an official whose duty is to study the diplomatic maneuvers of the First Daughter of Camelot.
Watch her U.S. Embassy Tokyo greeting from her home in New York to the people of Japan.
Nancy Snow, visiting professor at Keio University in Tokyo, is author of the just-released Truth is the Best Propaganda: Edward R. Murrow's Speeches in the Kennedy Years. She is completing a book on Japan's global image since 3/11.