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Rockefeller thanks the Japanese government for major award

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., thanked the Japanese government on Tuesday for awarding him the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun.

The award, created in 1875 as Japan's first national award, praises Rockefeller's decades of work promoting economic and cultural relationships between the two countries."I am so humbled by this award and filled with gratitude to the Emperor for selecting me to receive the Order of the Rising Sun.

"The people of Japan have not only shaped my life in profound ways, but they have also shaped the lives of thousands of West Virginians and forever become part of the fabric of our state," Rockefeller said. "I look forward to continuing and strengthening this tremendous partnership for years to come."

Rockefeller lived in Japan from 1957 to 1960, studying at Tokyo's International Christian University a year before he graduated from Harvard College. He then worked for the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., before moving to Emmons to work for VISTA in 1964.

After he was first elected governor in 1976, Rockefeller began building relationships between West Virginia and Japanese businesses.

As governor and a U.S. senator, Rockefeller led a dozen trade missions to Japan and played a key role in attracting more than 20 Japanese companies to the state -- companies that invested billions of dollars and created thousands of jobs.

Those businesses include:

- Wheeling-Nisshin, Inc, which was created in 1986 as a joint venture between Nisshin Steel Co. and Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Corp. and was the first Japanese investment in the state. Its aluminizing and galvanizing plant began operating in 1988 in Follansbee in the Northern Panhandle.

- NGK Spark Plugs decided to build a plant in Sissonville in 1994. Since then, the plant has expanded four times.

- Toyota Motor Manufacturing began constructing its plant in Buffalo in 1996. Over the years, Toyota expanded that plant eight times, investing more than $1.4 billion in the state's economy and creating 1,300 jobs. Earlier this year, the Toyota assembly line produced its 10-millionth vehicle.

Earlier this month, the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C. issued a press release stating, "From the time he became governor of West Virginia in 1977, Sen. Rockefeller has made a difference across a wide spectrum of efforts to strengthen Japan-U.S. relations for over 30 years. Such efforts are held in high regard throughout Japan."

Rockefeller will formally receive the Order of the Rising Sun at a ceremony hosted by Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae in the near future. He was selected for the award based on the recommendation of Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida.

Jay's father, John D. Rockefeller III, also received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun in 1969.

Rockefeller, who announced in January that he would not run for re-election in 2014, currently chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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