WASHINGTON – The death of Daniel Inouye, the influential Democratic senator from Hawaii, at the age of 88 on Monday has led to an urgent need for Japan to consider the “post-Inouye” Senate and the rebuilding of Japan-U.S. relations.
Inouye, the first U.S. lawmaker of Japanese descent, was seen as a guardian figure who moved quickly to avoid conflict between Japan and the United States and was committed to strengthening bilateral ties. He was born in Honolulu in 1924 to Japanese parents who had emigrated from Fukuoka Prefecture.
Inouye was a strong leader who stood at the forefront of the bilateral relationship, Ambassador to the U.S. Kenichiro Sasae said in a statement.
U.S. Ambassador John Roos also extended his condolences, saying, “Americans have lost a senior statesman and the U.S.-Japan relationship has lost its most stalwart supporter and friend.”
Inouye served in the Senate for nearly 50 years, the second-longest tenure in the history of the chamber.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, his influence extended to approving government budgets. His views were given more weight by his wartime experience: he lost his right arm in World War II.
After the souring of relations over the relocation of the controversial Futenma air station in Okinawa under the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatayama, Inouye urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he had supported in the 2008 presidential election, and others to be more protective of Japan.
He also supported requests from the Japanese side to prevent the integration of Futenma into the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena base in Okinawa, as proposed by Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Despite the influence of Inouye, however, the bridge between Japan and the United States gradually began to wither. Even when Diet members made visits to the United States, meetings other than with Inouye would be limited mainly to former government officials well-versed in Japanese affairs.
The new Congress starting in January will have one senator who is Japanese-American, and four others of Japanese descent in the House of Representatives, but they won’t have anywhere near Inouye’s sway.
Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a heavyweight who was formerly stationed in Japan as a marine, will retire at the end of his current term.