By Paul J. Nyden
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Jay Rockefeller traces the close relationship he helped West Virginia develop with Japan to three years when he lived in a “wood and paper house in the middle of a rice field with four Japanese students.”
Rockefeller took a break after finishing his junior year at Harvard University to attend the International Christian University in Tokyo.
“I learned the Japanese language, both the northern dialect and the southern dialect. I reveled in it,” Rockefeller said. “You couldn’t graduate from the university unless you were fluent in both English and Japanese. I went there only 12 years after the Second World War ended.”
He had visited the country with his parents in 1952 and 1955, but he wanted to experience it on his own.
“To take off at the end of your junior year and disappear for three years, nobody did that back then. I didn’t want to graduate as a half-baked preppie. I wanted to have some fire in my belly,” Rockefeller said.
As governor and U.S. senator, Rockefeller led a dozen trade missions to Japan, playing a key role in attracting more than 20 Japanese companies to invest billions of dollars and create thousands of jobs in West Virginia.
On Wednesday, Rockefeller will receive the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun Award during a ceremony at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. The Japanese government announced last fall that it would give Rockefeller the award “in recognition of his significant contributions to strengthening and promoting both the economic relationship and mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.”
“When I got to Japan in 1957, I learned their language and culture non-stop for three years,” Rockefeller said. “For me, it was a life-changer.”
The Grand Cordon is the highest award given by the Order of the Rising Sun, created in 1875, and is one of the highest honors bestowed by the Japanese government. It recognizes those who have achieved prominence in international relations, among other fields. Rockefeller’s father, John D. Rockefeller III, won the award in 1969…