Ambassador Baker Speaks at America-Japan Society's New Year Reception

Ambassador Howard H. Baker, Jr.
America-Japan Society New Year's Reception
Ambassador's Residence, Tokyo

January 24, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Nancy and I welcome you. Happy New Year to one and all. I hope you can all hear me. There are few things in this world that I'm sure of, but one is that I can talk loud enough for you to hear me [laughter].

I have to tell you a quick story, speaking of being able to hear me. I had an opportunity to meet with a colleague of mine, and I overheard someone say, "He's not very big, is he?" And my colleague said, "No, but he's loud!" [laughter] And I've thrived on that ever since.

Ambassador and Mrs. Okawara, Kuno-san, and other distinguished members of the America-Japan Society, welcome to this house.

I should also acknowledge the wonderful jazz musicians we have with us from the United States Air Force Band of the Pacific. Gentlemen, once again, congratulations and thank you very much [applause]. I anticipate that there will be more music later, and we all look forward to that.

Our New Year greetings may be belated, but they're genuine and sincere, and we're happy to be able to celebrate this occasion with you. Nancy and I are always delighted to get together with people such as yourselves who have done so much over so many years to strengthen the remarkable friendship between the United States and Japan. As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, let us also celebrate our close partnership, which benefits our two nations and, indeed, the entire world in so many ways.

My friends, 2004 was an extraordinary year. It was time of difficult challenges and tragic natural disasters, but also of great accomplishment. Japan and the United States worked together in international coalitions of nations to make the world a better place, in Afghanistan, Iraq, in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, and elsewhere as well. At home, both nations continued on the path to steady and sustainable economic growth. Our President won re-election and your Prime Minister continued his remarkable leadership on the world stage, and kept up his efforts at reform in so many vital areas. And sports fans on both sides of the Pacific were enthralled by the brilliant performance of our athletes in the Olympics, and of a remarkable young baseball player known as Ichiro [laughter].

I should also say that over the last year, thanks to the leadership of the America-Japan Society, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of bilateral relations in an appropriate and memorable manner. Nancy and I will long remember that brilliant sunny and warm April day in Yokohama when we were joined by President Bush on tape and Prime Minister Koizumi in the flesh [laughter] to celebrate our friendship. I have reached the point in my life where I don't necessarily look forward to my own birthday parties [laughter], but Yokohama was one birthday bash we thoroughly enjoyed.

As Nancy and I prepare to say "sayonara" to this great house and our official duties in Japan, we look back with great satisfaction on the remarkable opportunities we have had to travel the length and breadth of this beautiful and hospitable country and meet a variety of wonderful people. On occasion, I have had the chance to indulge my hobby and take a few photographs here and there. There are some, by the way, who claim that I'm a pretty good photographer but an amateur diplomat [laughter] - which is probably true.

We are pleased to think we may have contributed in some small way to perhaps the closest friendship the United States enjoys with any nation on earth. But, as I have often observed, our relationship is complex. We need our continued efforts to nurture and extend that friendship. We need the efforts of organizations such as yours to keep us moving forward.

There is so much more that we can and will accomplish in the future. I look forward to it. And while Nancy and I will be across the Pacific in our native land, let me assure you we will remember the many good friends we have made here, the many challenges and many opportunities that have been provided during my time here as Ambassador and Nancy's time at my side.

You may be assured also that our interest in Japan and our wish for the welfare of this great country will not end when we board our airplane at Narita heading back to the United States. We will continue to have an abiding interest in Japan. We will watch with great interest and cheer along the way as you continue to expand and extend your economy, as you take your place in the world as a great nation. As you meet the challenges that are before you, Nancy and I will be cheering you on, from a distance. But that distance will not mute our affection for the people and country of Japan.

So, my friends, happy New Year, and welcome one and all [applause].