Connecting People & Ideas to Advance Mutual Interests in U.S.-Asia Relations

(Picture Shown) Mike Mansfield presents his credentials to the Emperor of Japan following his appointment as U.S. ambassador, 1977.

Mike Mansfield first visited Japan in 1922, as a Marine on his way home from the Philippines. His time spent abroad in the military sparked an interest in Asia that would remain with him for the rest of his life.  He was known as an authority on U.S. relations with Asia throughout his career in Congress, and after he retired from the Senate in 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed him U.S. ambassador to Japan. He was reappointed by President Ronald Reagan, and served until 1989, longer than any other U.S. ambassador to Japan.

During his more than eleven years as ambassador, Mike Mansfield served with five prime ministers of Japan.  Mansfield’s biographer, Don Oberdorfer, notes that his prestige was “sky-high from the beginning of his ambassadorship,” and his honesty and skillful handling of difficult bilateral issues earned the trust of leaders like Prime Minister Nakasone.  The prime minister’s Foreign Ministry secretary, Kazutoshi Hasegawa, recollected that Japanese prime ministers rarely met with ambassadors, but that Ambassador Mansfield “was the only U.S. ambassador after the war who could meet the prime minister at any time on short notice.” (Don Oberdorfer, Senator Mansfield (Washington: Smithsonian, 2003)).  Further reflecting the esteem with which he was held in Japan, in 1989 Mike Mansfield was presented the Grand Cordon of the order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers, Japan’s highest civilian award.

Photo credit: 99-3050, Mike Mansfield Collection, K. Ross Toole Archives, Archives & Special Collections, Mansfield Library, The University of Montana.