About the Author: Lori Shoemaker serves as Assistant Press Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. You may also read Secretary Clinton's blog entry from Japan.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Tokyo the evening of February 16 on her much-anticipated first trip abroad as Secretary, to reassert our commitment to our allies and partners in Asia and discuss common approaches to the challenges facing the international community. In her arrival ceremony Monday night, she met Japanese female astronauts and members of Japan’s Special Olympics team. On Tuesday, she started the day with an early-morning visit to the Meiji Shrine, one of my favorite spots in Tokyo. Walking under the Meiji Shrine’s majestic tall trees and historic torii (traditional wooden gates), you can leave the concrete, glass, and steel of modern Tokyo behind for a moment and feel a real sense of traditional Japanese culture.
Next Secretary Clinton stopped by the U.S. Embassy to meet and greet embassy employees and their families, expressing appreciation for our work preparing for her visit and in representing the United States abroad. Although I had to miss the “meet and greet” because I was already working at the Secretary’s next stop, Iikura Guest House, her close attention and willingness to listen to embassy staff meant a great deal to all of us.
Iikura Guest House is a beautifully-appointed Foreign Ministry building with a large reception hall, meeting rooms, and dining room. Secretary Clinton came to Tokyo to meet with senior Japanese officials for discussions on the strategic bilateral alliance and cooperation with Japan on regional and global issues such as the financial markets turmoil, humanitarian issues, and security and climate change. At Iikura House, the Secretary had a meeting and working lunch with Foreign Minister Nakasone and then together they addressed and took questions from a group of more than 100 journalists, including camera crews, assembled in the hall. My own role was to work out arrangements at the site for the traveling press which accompany the Secretary. After her meeting with Defense Minister Hamada and then a few moments with Ambassador Ogata, the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Secretary returned to the U.S. Embassy to meet with family members of Japanese citizens who were abducted to North Korea, an issue to which she attaches great importance.
The Secretary then held a busy round of interviews with ABC, CBS and NBC in the embassy’s small television studio, before proceeding to the Imperial Residence, where, as a former First Lady, she was received by Empress Michiko. (In 1994, President and Mrs. Clinton held a state dinner in honor of the Emperor and Empress.) After tea with the Empress, the Secretary returned to her hotel to continue interviews, on-camera with two Japanese broadcasters, and then with two Japanese newspapers. (My job involved setting these up.)
The Secretary’s schedule was tight, timed down to the minute, and next she was whisked off to Tokyo University for a “Town Hall” meeting with Japanese college students. My colleagues told me that Secretary Clinton was in her element at the college “Town Hall,” warmly greeting individual students after answering a wide range of their questions. (If you have a question for the Secretary, you may ask her one yourself online.) Since I wasn’t at the "Town Hall," look for more about it later.
From Tokyo University, the Secretary proceeded to a meeting and working dinner with Prime Minister Aso, where I am sure that both the conversation and the cuisine were high-level. She then had a meeting with opposition party leader Ozawa, before the end of her long day’s schedule.
As a mid-level press officer not at the Prime Minister’s dinner, I enjoyed a “conbini obento” (box lunch from a convenience store) back at the office while finishing up assigned tasks, including this blog, in order to rush home to see my (sleeping) children. I’m sure that our Secretary, as a hard-working mother and professional for many years, would understand.