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Caroline Kennedy in hot soup over dolphin hunt tweet

Publication Date : 27-01-2014


United States Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy's public slamming of the annual dolphin hunt by fishermen at a remote Japanese village has given her unwanted attention.

As she is the envoy of Japan's only security ally, the Japanese thought she would be on their side or, at the very least, would not slur her host country in public.

But she did, with a tweet on the Twitter microblogging service on January 18 that read: "Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries."

USG stands for the "US government" and "drive hunt" is a fishing method in which the sea creatures, or in this case dolphins, are first herded into a confined area before being slaughtered.

When Kennedy, 56, was picked for the Tokyo job by President Barack Obama last year, old Japan hands in Washington reportedly decried her appointment as an insult to the Japanese, given the tensions and growing security concerns in Northeast Asia.

She was no diplomat and had little experience in foreign policy, they said, and was awarded the post only because of her contribution to Obama's re-election in 2012.

The counter-argument was that the Japanese would surely appreciate Kennedy's distinguished bloodline.

The Kennedys are often touted as America's "royal family" and she is the last surviving member of "Camelot", the name by which the presidency of her late father John F. Kennedy is often admiringly referred to because of its potential and promise for the future at the time.

And, indeed, the Japanese saw the daughter of the assassinated president as the quintessential celebrity. Her arrival here on November 15 last year to take up her diplomatic post sparked excitement and a "Kennedy fever".

More than 6,000 Japanese lined the route that took her to the Imperial Palace, where she travelled in an antique horse carriage to present her credentials to the Japanese Emperor.

"I don't think we have ever welcomed an ambassador with such high expectations," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Initially, Kennedy appeared in the right places, from disaster- hit northern Japan to comfort survivors of the 2011 earthquake, to Nagasaki where she spoke to survivors of the nuclear blast that flattened much of the city on Aug 9, 1945, and toured the atomic bomb museum.

Her Twitter account has nearly 75,000 followers.

But her dolphin tweet, which upset the Japanese, prompted the brassy weekly magazine Shukan Shincho to ask in its latest edition what she had achieved in her two months here.

Just one week after her arrival, Kennedy attended a Paul McCartney concert, the weekly noted.

On Christmas Day - not a public holiday in Japan - she was with her family at a concert featuring the all-girl Japanese pop group Perfume, which her son is said to be a fan of. She even had a picture taken with the three girls after the show.

On December 26, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the infamous Yasukuni war shrine, it caused a flurry of activity among Tokyo-based foreign diplomats. But Kennedy and her family were busy touring temples in the ancient capital of Kyoto, some 370km west of Tokyo.

And while all of Japan was back at work on January 6 after a long New Year break, she was with her family on a skiing holiday at the Niseko resort in Hokkaido.

A January 8 tweet by her read "Loving Hokkaido powder. Yes that's me" and included a photograph of the ambassador skiing down a slope piled high with Hokkaido's famous "powder snow".

Then came her January 18 tweet criticising the annual dolphin hunt by the fishermen of Taiji village in Wakayama prefecture, which left the Japanese government in a fix.

Upper House lawmaker Masahisa Sato commented, appropriately in a tweet too: "Drive hunting is a traditional aspect of local Japanese culture. Is it the sort of thing the ambassador should express an opinion about?"

Referring to whether Kennedy is fit to be an ambassador, Shukan Shincho raised doubts about "the substance behind that superficial glamour".

"The Kennedy fever is fast cooling off," it concluded caustically.


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