"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] "JFK's Three Legacies and Japan": Address by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at "The Torch Has Been Passed: JFK's Legacy Today", a Symposium Jointly Organized by Waseda University and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

[Place] Okuma Auditorium, Waseda University
[Date] March 18, 2015
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional translation
[Full text]

Ambassador Kennedy, thank you so much for that extremely kind introduction.

Just now I had the pleasure of listening to a truly superb speech by President Clinton, together with all of you.

President Clinton's inauguration took place in 1993.

I attended the ceremony. I was 37 years old at the time and I had not yet been elected to the Diet.

I watched the inauguration from quite a distance, so President Clinton appeared very small indeed, but today I was fortunate enough to hear him speak vividly right in front of me. This impressed me very deeply.

President Clinton, you delivered a truly magnificent speech today.

The day before yesterday, I had the pleasure of delivering a speech, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joining me, at a seminar commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. As I was preparing for that speech, I recalled a certain story.

Dag Hammarskjold is a man who strengthened the foundations of the United Nations as its second Secretary-General. There is a well-known story that when the "torch" came to be passed from his predecessor, he was told, "You are about to enter the most impossible job on this earth."

Now, for the task I have here today in making this address... Can there be anything more "impossible" in the world?

Look, a "torch" was handed to me from none other than President Bill Clinton, a great orator acclaimed all around the world.

He is not just an orator. He is also a jazz musician, and a virtuoso of improvisation!

What else can I do? I've got some "sheet music" here, and I plan on staying entirely faithful to it as I perform.

If President Clinton plays jazz, my forte is classical music, as it were, rudimentary or not. Also, I've opted to perform only half what the President did.

Grace under Pressure: Frist Legacy

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a book entitled Profiles in Courage. For the young students in the audience in particular, you can find a Japanese translation as well, and I highly recommend you read it.

This is a book by JFK, the man we honour today. In it, while he was a Senator, before the "torch" was passed to him as president, he recounts the courage displayed by eight of his forerunners in the Senate.

As the author himself explains, "courage" is "grace under pressure," a description I find truly outstanding.

As we consider JFK's legacy, the first thing we should remember is his ability to lead, demonstrating noble grace and never yielding to pressure, and the guts to back it.

In particular, during the Cuban missile crisis, the solitary decision President Kennedy took saved the world from the danger of nuclear war breaking out, making humankind able to continue to live as we do.

"Grace under pressure." To walk the path you believe is right, no matter how much pressure you face. There is a saying of Mencius I often quote that matches this notion exactly. JFK also said that that's exactly what constitutes courage for a politician.

We in Japan saw what leadership was in this young and vigorous president. I think that remains engraved in our mind's eye even today.

And then what resonates in our mind's ear is JFK's voice. It was September 1962, was it not, when he said, in that slightly high-pitched yet deeply penetrating voice, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade, …not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard."

Power to Dream: Second Legacy

His second legacy is exhibiting to people all around the world the power to dream. And in fact, the United States succeeded in sending humans to the moon in 1969, just as JFK had pledged.

At that time I was a young boy dreaming dreams of my own -- naturally I had that time in my life as well -- but it was not merely a coincidence in timing. That era was when Japan itself was sprinting as fast as it could towards growth, with the holding of Tokyo Olympics as a major turning point.

Japan had the state of mind of "the little engine that could," telling itself, "we can do this, we can do this" as it dashed forward.

Through that power to dream, I think the U.S. under JFK propelled forward a great number of people and nations all around the world.

It was in 1963 that Japan became a full member of GATT, and the following year, 1964, when Japan became a full-fledged member of the IMF and the OECD. That same year, Tokyo hosted the IMF-World Bank annual meetings just before the Olympics got underway.

Each and every one of these symbolizes the post-war resurgence of the Japanese economy and the fact that Japan chose to join the free and democratic camp.

Not a single one of these would have come to fruition without the leadership of JFK, who knew a great deal of Japan. This reality is something we are apt to forget.

Here we find a legacy of JFK that is important for Japan in particular. JFK's United States gave us all-embracing support as we moved to enter the circle of the developed free world camp during the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Battle against Discrimination: Third Legacy

After leadership and the power to dream is the determination to battle to stamp out discrimination. That is the third legacy that JFK left us.

This year marks the 60th year since the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Over 50 years have passed since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

And right in the time between those two landmark events was JFK, who stood up for eliminating discrimination based on the colour of one's skin.

The U.S. was moving forward to remedy glaring injustices through people's own efforts, with people struggling at times and suffering at times. In the civil rights movement, we watched the United States grapple with contradictions.

The United States did not exert its leadership throughout the world merely through its power to dream. I believe it was also truly that grace under pressure, that ability to reinvent itself in eliminating discrimination, that led the world.

I consider this to be moral leadership that only the post-war United States was able to bring to bear. And I wholeheartedly believe that this also continues to be necessary for the world.

Only the Japanese Saw That, Real Time

In talking about JFK, there is one scene I cannot help but touch upon, sad as it is.

It was the testing day of a simultaneous TV broadcast across the Pacific -- the first in history, as part of the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics that would be held the following year.

The name of the broadcasting satellite that the United States had launched was "Relay." Many Japanese gathered around their TV sets, knowing that scenes of what was happening at that very moment in the faraway U.S. on the same day at the same time would come streaming into their living rooms.

And yet when they turned on their sets with hearts racing, wondering what would appear, it was pictures of Dallas, Texas streaming into their homes. Yes, it was that mournful scene.

And so, Ambassador Kennedy, that horrifically tragic incident for your family was seen by the Japanese people -- only by the Japanese people, in all the world -- in real time, together with you, the people in the U.S., and it became deeply seared into our memory.

There are various layers within the relationship joining one country and another. But the deepest layer, the one in which hearts come together, where we share with each other our joys and sorrows and our feelings come rain or come shine, is usually very rare indeed.

In Asia, the United States undeniably forged that exceptional relationship here in Japan. I hope you keep that always in mind.

The Kennedys and Waseda

Before I wrap up my remarks, I would like to say something to all of you here at Waseda.

"Miyako no seihoku waseda no mori ni…."

"Northwest of City great and fair, in the wood of Waseda."

Do you know that your school anthem was long remembered in the Kennedy family?

Attorney General Robert Kennedy visited Japan in February 1962, and he faced a debate with students here in this very hall, Okuma Auditorium.

The students of that era were not as polite as you are here today.

They made quite a commotion with heckling and the hall was in an uproar, so it was impossible to give a talk properly. The head of the cheering squad, fed up at this, finally mounted the stage and took the lead in belting out the school anthem.

When he did this, as you might expect here at Waseda, there was no longer any left or right. The hall erupted in a thunderous chorus of "Waseda, Waseda, Waseda!"

I imagine this left a considerable impression on him, since after that, Robert Kennedy hummed the "Waseda, Waseda!" refrain. Ambassador Kennedy, does that story sound correct?

But there is actually a follow-up to that story.

One of the young people who had been in the audience later travelled to Washington. There, thinking he'd try his luck, he applied for a chance to meet with the Attorney General, saying he was one of those who had heard him that day, and to his surprise, he did indeed meet with Robert Kennedy.

That young man was the future Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Incidentally, there are liberal arts colleges such as Grinnell and Kenyon that people in the U.S. all know, which can rightfully be called "Midwestern jewels." These colleges and Waseda have cultivated a sister school relationship over many a year.

With that as its foundation, Waseda has been sending off its own students to study abroad while welcoming international students to its own campuses, and making its campuses internationally minded. All this places Waseda at the front of the pack nationally. I am sure you are all well aware of that fact.

Dreaming Dreams with Asia

But at the same time, do please head off to China. Please go to the Republic of Korea. And please head to Taiwan, mentioning "Waseda" while you are there.

"Oh yes, that Waseda."

I suspect that Waseda is loved throughout Asia more than you imagine.

The reason for that is very clear. You at Waseda have from as long ago as the Meiji era consistently and without fail gladly welcomed students from China, Korea, and Taiwan. You enjoy a history of them mingling together with the residents of Takadanobaba, and of treating them with warmth and fondness by day or -- and this is an important point -- by night.

Japan must be a place where the youth of Asia can dream dreams and make their dreams a reality.

I intend to make the future Japan a country where one can dream dreams, hand in hand with many people from China, the ROK, and the rest of Asia.

President Clinton, Ambassador Kennedy, and distinguished representatives of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Japan is now dreaming that kind of dream.

Let us, both the United States and Japan, cultivate the ability to dream, as well as reinforce our determination more and more to stamp out discrimination and respect human rights. And in the age to come, let us together make the world a better place, even if only one step at a time. I believe that is the road to properly reciprocating the legacy that JFK left us.

To President Clinton, Ambassador Kennedy, and President Kamata [of Waseda University], to Prime Minister Fukuda, a graduate of Waseda with us in the audience here today, and to all concerned here at Waseda University, thank you very much for your cooperation. I wish to conclude my remarks today by extending my sincere thanks to all of you.

Thank you very much.