Former U.S. ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker (pictured above), was honored during an award ceremony hosted yesterday evening at the Japanese ambassador’s sprawling Northwest Washington residence near American University. A host of dignitaries, including former Republican presidential candidate, Fred Thompson, and Hawaii’s senior senator, Daniel Inouye, were in attendance to see the current Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz senior counsel receive one of Japan’s highest civilian honors, the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers. The accolade (right) recognizes Baker’s contributions to maintaining good will between the United States and Japan.
President George W. Bush appointed Baker to be the 26th U.S. ambassador to Japan in 2001. He held the position until 2005, when he returned to practice at Baker, Donelson, which his grandfather co-founded. Today, Baker shares his time between the firm’s Huntsville, Tenn. and D.C. offices, where he focuses on international law, Japan relations, and federal public policy.
“He brings a lot of history to us,” Baker, Donelson’s Washington managing partner John Calender said during the cocktail hour of last evening’s event. He was referring to Baker’s expansive career, which includes nearly 20 years as a senator from Tennessee. Baker was Senate minority leader from 1977 to 1981, and Senate majority leader from 1981 to 1985. He also served as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff from 1987 to 1988.
Fred Thompson (left), another former Tennessee senator, considers Baker a mentor. The two met when Thompson worked as middle Tennessee campaign manager on Baker’s 1972 Senate reelection bid. Following his reelection, Baker recruited Thompson to serve as counsel to the Republicans on the Senate Watergate Committee. “We’ve just been good friends ever since,” Thompson told Legal Times yesterday evening, adding, “He’s a great man, and he’s served America in many, many different ways.”
During the award presentation, Japanese ambassador to the United States, Ryozo Kato, lauded Baker’s ability to “always make you feel like he’s glad to see you.” Upon accepting the accolade, Baker said he felt “overwhelmed.” In a short speech, Baker said the relationship between Japan and the U.S. is the “cornerstone of stability and prosperity in the Pacific. That is not unimportant in this dangerous age.”
The event also marked the end of Kato’s tenure as ambassador to the United States. He will return to Japan to become the country’s commissioner of baseball.