Photo credit: Janet Donovan

“Look at all these friends,” said Kenichirō Sasae at his final farewell party at the residence.  “I wish I were this popular back in Japan.  I don’t even know this many people in Japan.  This is the last goodbye and this is a hard one. I try not to cry, but sometimes I do cry these days and I’m not that old yet, but I’m old [enough] so I’m getting loose in control in my [thoughts]. The people of this country, the people in the government and their institutions and organizations who we have come to know, have all made us feel welcomed and accepted. It’s been a remarkable experience for us.”

Ambassador Kenichirō Sasae

It was a touching moment when Amb. Sasae acknowledged his wife Nobuko: “She’s obviously my partner in life over these five years in Washington. I’m proud of all that you have done Nobuko and for the love and support that you gave me. And this is a pretty untraditional thing for Japanese, you know, men to say that, but I want to say in front of all of these friends, from the bottom of my heart, thank you very much.”

Nobuko Sasae (third from left)

“Nobuko was talking to a group not long ago. She said when she came to the United States as a graduate student back in the late 1970s, about the only thing Americans knew of Japan was that fact that we were once fighting and enemies. One time she was listening to the radio with another lady who was a classmate who asked Nobuko if Japan had radios. They actually were listening to a Sony radio. (laughter). Most important is that the Americans know The United States are friends of ours. In the future, when I hear the word Americans, I will think of you in this room. Each one of you, and all of you, and I will see your faces. I just want to say thank you for the wonderful memories you have given us. Thank you for all you have done to increase the ties between our two great nations. And thank you for your friendships very much.”

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of HUD

“Mr. Ambassador, you brought us a great gift,” acknowledged Dr. Ben Carson. “You brought our country continued cooperation and friendship. You know when you think about it, three quarters of a century ago, Japan and America were bitter enemies. And today, you are one of our closest allies and friends which gives me hope for the democrats and republicans. By working together, the U.S. and Japan will improve outcomes for the citizens of both of our countries and we will continue to learn from that. Candy and I have been to Japan a few times and just had an incredible time with the people there. Although, we were told that when we went there, not to worry because everybody spoke English, that wasn’t quite true. Nevertheless, we had fun. I want to thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for your active leadership, for your friendship and we wish you the best in the future.”

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

“This is a farewell,” said Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, “but farewells are lingering and they’re designed for you to remember all the moments you’ve had together. And this farewell to the Ambassador is a celebration. It’s a celebration of what you have done. The Ambassador immediately made some tremendous strides in teaching us and working with us to strengthen our role and our understanding of the Pacific – to strengthen and improve our understanding of international affairs generally. And recently, the Ambassador and the United States government have worked together so that Japan is not just our Pacific partner, they are our world partner and a lot of that is because of the confidence we have in Japan and in the confidence we have in the Ambassador. The Ambassador might tell you, and it certainly seems to be true, that his mission was not only for these formal things but his mission was something else. His mission was to teach us the warmth, the decency, the sincerity, the love of freedom and the humor of the Japanese people. Mr. Ambassador, you’ve succeeded in that. And there’s a joyousness about Nobuko. You bring us that joy – it’s apparent from your presence, from your conversation, and your warmth. You’ve been very, very important to our lives. As I say, the time has come for you to leave, but you’ve given us many, many gifts. And in the words of the great the English poet, For these thy gifts we can no other answer make but thanks and thanks and ever thanks.”

former Secretary for Transportation Norman Mineta

While there were other speakers, it was former Secretary Mineta who presented the farewell toast: “We all share at this moment this bittersweet experience of being here. As Justice Kennedy said, to celebrate the work of Master Sasae and Madame Nobuko. As an American of Japanese ancestry, I think I bring sort of a unique view of this relationship. We have not only seen Ambassador Sasae and Madame Nobuko reaching out to the communities – specifically to the Japanese-American community – to bring us under their wing here at the Embassy, but more importantly we have also seen the work of Ambassador Sasae in dealing with his agency, with journalists from Japan and this country, to always talk about Americans of Japanese ancestry, and those journalists have literally taken his word of delving more into the history of Americans with Japanese ancestry. And for that Ambassador Sasae we are eternally grateful, for your always trying to keep people informed about the accomplishments, whether it was in military, in politics, whatever part of life we’ve enjoyed serving in this great country. So, we bid you farewell, but on the other hand, we know that we will have, always, a friend to be able to visit whenever we might have the occasion to be in Japan. So I have the privilege of proposing a kanpai tonight, and so if I could have my glass and if others have their glasses to be able to raise to Ambassador Sasae. We thank you very, very much Ambassador Sasae and Madame Nobuko for your tremendous representation of your country, your government, your people and we are going to tremendously miss you. We want to wish you the best health and the best wishes of everyone here in terms of whatever endeavors you both undertake: Kanpai.