Former Vice President and U.S. Envoy to Japan Mondale Dies at 93

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From left: Glen and Sakie Fukushima, Joan and Walter Mondale at the Christmas Gala of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), held at the Shin Takanawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo in December 1996. “He regaled us at the head table with his great sense of humor and wonderful anecdotes,” said Fukushima. “And the ACCJ presented him the Person of the Year Award.”

Rafu Wire and Staff Reports

Walter Mondale, a former U.S. vice president and ambassador to Japan who worked on a yet-to-be-realized plan to close a key U.S. air base in Okinawa Prefecture, died Monday at his home in Minneapolis, according to U.S. media. He was 93.

The death of Mondale, known as a champion of liberal politics, was announced by a family friend and spokeswoman Kathy Tunheim but no specific cause was provided, according to The Washington Post.

Mondale was U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993 and 1996 under the administration of Bill Clinton, after serving as vice president to Jimmy Carter for four years through January 1981.

In April 1996, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Mondale reached a key agreement between Washington and Tokyo that the land used for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in a crowded residential area in Ginowan in Okinawa should be returned to Japan.

The agreement was supposed to take effect within five to seven years as part of efforts to reduce the southern island prefecture’s burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

But the closure of the Futenma base has yet to be realized amid strong local opposition over a plan to build a replacement facility in the Henoko coastal area in Nago, also in Okinawa.

“We extend our deepest condolences in receiving the news of the passing away of former ambassador to Japan Mondale,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato in Tokyo. “The government will inherit Mr. Mondale’s will and gain the understanding of local people in seeking the full return of the (land used by) the Futenma air station as soon as possible and do our utmost to ease the burden of hosting bases.”

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale speaks at a Japan America Society event in 1994. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Mondale, a Democrat and a native of Minnesota, had served as the state’s attorney general from 1960 to 1964 and represented the state in the U.S. Senate before becoming vice president. Carter and Mondale ran for re-election in 1980 but lost to Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Mondale ran for president in 1984, but was defeated by Reagan, who won a second term. Mondale is remembered for choosing Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate — the first woman on a major party’s presidential ticket.

In 2008, the Japanese government conferred upon Mondale the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers, one of the country’s highest honors, for his contribution to enhancing friendship and mutual understanding between Japan and the U.S.

Mondale was an honorary member of the U.S.-Japan Council’s Board of Councilors.

Glen S. Fukushima — senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and former deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan and China — remembered Mondale’s tenure as ambassador.

“Mondale was not only an effective ambassador during a difficult period in U.S.-Japan relations, he was an extremely warm, decent, and supportive human being with the kind of honesty and integrity one doesn’t always expect from a politician,” Fukushima told **The Rafu Shimpo.** “He was a true statesman, progressive, and role model, and will be sorely missed.”

Fukushima is among those being considered by the Biden Administration as the next ambassador to Japan. The post has been vacant since President Trump’s appointee, Bill Hagerty, stepped down in 2019.

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