WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller received one of the highest awards bestowed by the Japanese government at a ceremony Wednesday night in Washington.
Rockefeller was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun Award during a ceremony at the Japanese Embassy. The Japanese government gave 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."
In remarks prepared for the event, Rockefeller said the award was "among the greatest honors of my life."
Rockefeller, who is leaving the U.S. Senate at the end of his fifth term in early 2015, spent three years in Japan in the late 1950s. As West Virginia governor and U.S. senator, he has played a pivotal role in bringing Japanese companies -- and thousands of jobs -- to the state.
"In many ways, I came of age in post-war Japan. It set me on a course that ultimately led me to West Virginia, and a commitment to improving the lives of others," the senator said in his remarks.
"I discovered that I identified with the Japanese culture and the structured lifestyle they lead, and I was struck by the work ethic and resilience of the people around me. It was unlike anything I had ever seen," Rockefeller said. "These were important impressions that, many years later, guided my work and vision in fostering an economic relationship between Japan and West Virginia -- a relationship that most people might have found unlikely.
In the 1980s, when Rockefeller said it was popular to bash Japan and its economy, "we let our fear of economic decline cloud the real potential that strong economic, cultural, and political ties would make us stronger, and therefore, better prepared to compete in the global economy," he said. "I wanted to open up West Virginia to the world. I knew a relationship with the Japanese would launch West Virginia on a global scale like no other country could."
He closed his remarks by saying, "I look forward to a bright future for Japan and West Virginia, and I promise I will continue to work to make it so."