Q&A After Ambassador Kennedy’s Speech at Japan National Press Club

QUESTION: Our time is limited, so let’s start with a hard question. I would like to ask you about politics and security. This year happens to be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and you participated in memorial services in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I would love to hear your comments on visiting those two cities.

And the G-7 will be hosted in Japan this year, so what do you think about President Obama visiting those two cities? Would you recommend that the President visit those two cities? Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: Visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki I think is one of the most powerful experiences anyone can have. I first came there in 1978 with my uncle, Senator Kennedy, and now I visited with my children, and I had a chance to walk through the Peace Park, which I hadn’t been able to do at the larger ceremonies. President Kennedy’s proudest achievement was the limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, so it has a great personal meaning for me as well. I know that President Obama is also committed to a world without nuclear weapons, and I think anyone who goes there feels a renewed commitment to work for peace in any way that we can.

As far as the President’s visit there, as you know, presidential scheduling is extremely complicated, and that’s many months away, so I can’t really speculate on what would be possible.

QUESTION: On Okinawa, as you referred to in your presentation, you talked about the return of lands south of Kadena, and you also participated in the memorial service this year. Okinawa has a unique history compared to other parts of Japan and has a high concentration of U.S. bases. So what do you think about this reality? Okinawa is opposing the landfill project and relocation of Futenma, so what do you think about this point. And if Japan were to propose a Plan B alternative to the Henoko plan, is the U.S. going to consider it? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: Well, the United States first of all works very hard to be a good neighbor, and we are very grateful to the people of Okinawa for the support that they have given to generations of U.S. service men and women. I have visited there four or five times now, and I’m always struck by the strength of the communities as well as the commitment of our service men and women.

We are working hard to reduce the impact of the bases. We understand how important this is. People worked very hard, considered many options, and developed this plan that I think is the best of any other plan that was considered. And I believe that we are at a turning point, and that the next few years will be critical. Once we are able to move Futenma, the situation will improve. And we are committed to doing that. We are working hard to do it as fast as possible. We have taken these early land return steps, as you know, and we are working to return additional lands as well as to realign our forces. So I think the future will be better, and I think that that plan is the plan that we should implement as fast as possible.

QUESTION: On refugees, Syrian refugees are flowing into Europe, and there was a terrorist attack in Paris, and even in the presidential campaign, the refugee issue is under the spotlight right now. It is a political issue in Japan as well, so I would appreciate your perspective on the refugee issue. Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: I think anyone who has turned on the television can see that this is becoming the humanitarian issue of our time. I mean, this is a huge crisis, and the United States is working hard, and so is Japan. We are grateful for the major contributions that Japan has made to improve the lives of the refugees and support them. President Obama has been very clear that we are committed to destroying ISIL and that we must also welcome refugees into the United States and not discriminate against any Muslim-Americans who are our neighbors and our friends. So I think this issue is going to be with us for some time, and all countries have an obligation to solve the underlying conflict that is causing this crisis as well as to help the families who are forced to leave their homeland.

QUESTION: One last question: This year happens to be the 70th anniversary of end of World War II, and Prime Minister Abe made a statement. Ambassador, you expressed disappointment when Prime Minister Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine, but what do you think about his statement this year?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: I was here for the year, and I watched the process in which the prime minister conducted a panel discussion, and I thought that the United States government welcomed the statement that he released, and it had a strong expression of remorse for the past suffering that was caused by Japan as well as a commitment to uphold previous government statements. So I think that the United States and all countries recognize that Japan’s record over the last 70 years has really been a model for all nations. It has contributed to peace and stability, and played a great role internationally, and so I think that the U.S. government, the President, Secretary Kerry, all issued statements of support for the prime minister’s statement.

QUESTION: On TPP I have two questions. You said Congress will pass TPP for approval, but the U.S. is heading toward the political season, and both parties are opposing the TPP. So why are you so optimistic about TPP?

Next, on Japanese agriculture, Japanese farmers worry about losing markets against cheap foreign produce including from the United States, but there are some options for Japanese farmers to export overseas, so do you have any tips for Japanese farmers so that their produce may be welcomed in the United States?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: If I can take the second question first, Japanese farmers produce among the most amazing products in the world, so no one but Japanese farmers could produce the peach-flavored strawberry in the winter. And I have met young Japanese farmers. I worked with the EnGei Agricultural high school, and I see the young people there who are committed to careers in agriculture. They also take care of bonsai plants at the Embassy that they are lending to me. And I’ve met with Future Farmers of Japan and Future Farmers of America, and I know that these partnerships have been going for 50 years or more. And so I have no doubt that Japanese farmers will succeed within the TPP context, and there will be challenges, but I visited farms where many generations are working together and growing amazing things. They’re selling directly to consumers. They’re selling their products in innovative ways, and I think that what they produce is so exceptional that I’m confident that they will be successful.

As far as TPP goes, trade agreements are never easy to pass, but they always do, and President Obama is absolutely committed to this agreement, and he has a very strong record of achievement on things that he cares deeply about, and so I have no doubt that when this all comes together that TPP will pass. As far as politics, that’s something else.

QUESTION: Next, on women: You were asked by the President to share your experience with the Japanese people, and when you look at the gender gap index, Japan is below 100th in the world. How do you think we can make a breakthrough for Japan to move forward women’s advancement in society? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: First of all let me say that this is an issue that the U.S. has to work on as well. We have not solved this problem. It’s still too difficult to balance work and family in the United States, but I think that by sharing our experiences we all can do better. I don’t think there’s one breakthrough. I think this is going to take a sustained effort, and it’s going to have to involve men, women, children, businesses, academia – and I think this is something certainly that is in the long-term interest of Japan and the short-term interest of its families and workers.

And I think the prime minister has set forward many of the measures that need to be implemented. People know what they are – revisions to the tax code, legislation, flexibility in the labor market – there are many things that we could name, but I think the main thing is the commitment to steady progress, and the women that I have seen in Japan are so dynamic, and I think that they really have the power to transform anything that they set their mind to. So I am eager and hopeful that this will be a successful initiative. I’ve seen progress since I’ve been here, and I’m honored to be a part of it and to watch and cheer from the sidelines.

QUESTION: Ambassador, you touched on student exchange. Some Japanese young people are inward-looking, so could you explain to them what could be the merits of studying in the United States or in U.S. colleges?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: Well, I understand why they don’t want to leave Japan. It’s really wonderful here, but I will say that I think studying in another country is one of the most transformative experiences you can have, and everyone that I’ve spoken to – myself included – who have spent time studying in another country find that it changes your life. It gives you a great perspective on your home as well as the country in which you are studying, and it opens up possibilities for your future that you would have never considered.

And I think that it’s also true that more Japanese women than men study abroad, and as companies globalize and as the world becomes more interconnected, I think that Japan should take advantage of this great resource as well. I think for kids and for parents this is really a great adventure, and one of the things that’s exciting about having children is being part of their adventure, and I think that they usually come home so I always say to parents not to worry. But to the kids I think it’s really one of the greatest experiences you can have, and you will come home and find opportunities and successes that are much greater than if you had not taken that chance.

And so I think businesses really need to work on this and convince kids that they won’t lose out in the job-recruitment cycle. And I think that universities need to work on it to make it easier for students to go back and forth. And I think we’re working at the Embassy to partner – working with MEXT to create partnerships between institutions that will make it easier for students to transfer credits, to go back and forth, to have internships. And I think that what we’re seeing is that there are people who are interested in doing this, but we need to make it easier for them.

And I would like to say that there are record numbers of Americans coming to Japan in the last few years, so we need to work on the Japanese numbers, but at least our message is getting through in the United States.