Kennedy reflects on jumping into Japan's culturally sensitive issues

President Obama's visit to Japan is a high-profile occasion for his official representative. It's a familiar role for Caroline Kennedy, who is quickly turning into a no-nonsense diplomat.

Kennedy was welcomed to Japan like a celebrity, and she jumped into some of the most culturally sensitive issues in the country as the new U.S. ambassador, engaging in diplomacy in a region increasingly on edge.

Kennedy, part of American political royalty, is now Mr. Obama's eyes and ears in Tokyo.

"It's a complicated region with a complicated history," Kennedy told CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett. "North Korea is a threat that is, you know, causing great concern, I think, throughout the region and the world. That's our number-one security challenge here. But, I think, overall the U.S.-Japan alliance is very strong."

Kennedy has tested that alliance, publicly opposing a long-standing Japanese tradition of dolphin hunting and expressing disappointment with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for visiting a controversial war shrine. She has surprised some people by her outspokenness.

"The United States attracts attention here in Japan, as it does around the world, and so I think everything we do is scrutinized and publicized," she said, "and I think those issues caught a lot of attention, but in fact the more important issues are the things that we are working closely together on that don't attract attention."

But the ambassador attracts attention everywhere, and that means surmounting a significant language barrier.

She told Garrett she's "working" on her Japanese and the best word she can say is "arigato," which means "thank you."

Kennedy concedes it might be more difficult to be a diplomat to an ally than to a rival because every bit of criticism, no matter how small, attracts huge headlines, but of course Kennedy is also realizing she attracts headlines no matter what.

To see Major Garrett's full report, watch the video in the player above