TOKYO — Caroline Kennedy was greeted by thousands of cheering Japanese as she passed through the streets of Tokyo to present her credentials to Emperor Akihito as the first female US ambassador to Japan.
Spectators, many of them elderly, lined the streets snapping photos of Kennedy, 55, as she passed in a century-old horse-drawn carriage. Crowds thronged the front of the Imperial Palace where Kennedy met with the 79-year-old emperor in a ceremony marking the official start of her duties.
Kennedy’s background as the only living child of former president John F. Kennedy and her ties to President Obama have heightened attention on her appointment. Her father had hoped to become the first sitting US president to visit Japan before he was killed.
‘‘Some people say she doesn’t have enough foreign policy experience, but her fame is her strength,” said Fujio Yanaka, 76, who waited outside to catch a glimpse of Kennedy. ‘‘I hope she’ll pass on the spirit of JFK and carry out diplomacy for peace.”
In Tuesday’s ceremony, Kennedy handed the emperor a letter from Obama with her credentials, along with a letter of resignation from her predecessor, John Roos, according to the Imperial Household Agency. The emperor receives about 40 new ambassadors each year.
Chieko Nishimura, 78, a Tokyo resident, shouted ‘‘Caroline!” as Kennedy boarded the carriage, which was built in 1913 by Imperial Household craftsmen and adorned with golden chrysanthemums, the symbol of the emperor. It was pulled by Cleveland Bay horses bred on the emperor’s estates and specially trained for ceremonial occasions.
‘‘I remember her as a little girl after her father died,’’ Nishimura said. ‘‘The people of Japan have been waiting for her.”
After the ceremony she returned to the Meiji Yasuda Seimei building, which was used by Allied forces from 1945 to 1956. In the adjoining atrium, hundreds of people strained for a glimpse of her.
‘‘I just was honored to present my credentials to his majesty and to begin work as ambassador,” Kennedy said. ‘‘It was a wonderful ceremony and I am honored to represent my country.”
Kennedy will represent the United States at a time when the Obama administration is making Asia a foreign-policy priority. The administration is working toward a trade alliance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, meant to anchor the United States within the fastest-growing economic region.
Kennedy, who studied Japanese history and has a law degree, first visited Japan in 1978 when she traveled to Hiroshima with her uncle, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She spent her honeymoon in Japan, visiting Nara and Kyoto.