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ISHINOMAKI, Japan (AP) — Just days after arriving in Japan as the new U.S. ambassador, Caroline Kennedy is making a two-day visit to areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami to meet survivors and highlight America's commitment to supporting its ally.
The daughter of President John F. Kennedy tried her hand at calligraphy, exchanged high-fives with schoolchildren and got an early birthday greeting Monday as she toured the northeastern region, about 340 kilometers (210 miles) north of Tokyo.
Rebuilding in the region has barely begun. Makeshift stores, restaurants, car washes and laundries have been set up in areas flattened by the tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude-9 earthquake. The disaster left more than 18,000 people dead or missing, and tens of thousands of people remain in temporary, prefabricated housing more than 2 1/2 years later.
Residents of the industrial port city of Ishinomaki stood in the wind and pouring rain waiting for a glimpse of Kennedy. She visited a park with a wide vista of the city's ravaged waterfront before heading to the Mangokuura Elementary School.
The students performed skits in English and sang "Happy Birthday" to Kennedy, who turns 56 on Wednesday. Kennedy presented 112 books to the school, donated in memory of Taylor Anderson, an American who died in the tsunami while teaching at Mangokuura and other schools in Ishinomaki.
Kennedy brushed in black ink the Japanese character for the word "tomo," or friend. She then sat down to read "Where the Wild Things Are," the classic children's book by American author Maurice Sendak, to a sixth-grade class.