Vice President Joe Biden motions to the "Army Strong" hat worn… (Shizuo Kambayashi / Associated…)
Reporting from Tokyo — In a public and personal show of support, Vice President Joe Biden told the Japanese people Tuesday that their resilience in the wake of an unprecedented natural disaster was an inspiration to the world.
In meetings in Tokyo and a visit to an area ravaged by the March earthquake and tsunami, Biden said that as an ally and friend, the United States would continue to do all it can in the nation's time of need, because he knew "you would do the same."
"The disaster met its match in the legendary industriousness and relentless perseverance of the Japanese people," Biden said in remarks at the Sendai airport, where area residents took shelter after the March catastrophe.
Biden, winding down a nine-day tour of Asia, also used the visit as another opportunity to express confidence amid uncertainty about America's future.
"While you're struggling to deal with one of the greatest natural disasters any country has faced, we are dealing with getting our budget in order," Biden told Prime Minister Naoto Kan at a morning meeting.
"There are voices in the world who are counting us out. They're making a very bad bet," he said.
After his speech at Sendai's airport Biden visited a makeshift memorial in nearby Natori, laying flowers amid a pile of rocks where rows of houses once stood before being swept away by the tsunami.
Biden then drove to a community center where an entire neighborhood now lives together in temporary housing. The vice president spent time with clusters of the residents one by one, alternately expressing his sympathy to and hamming it up with the delighted locals.
"You have a smile that lights up the whole parking lot!" he declared to an 89-year-old woman, whom he called "mother."
She said how honored she was to meet such a senior official from the United States.
"I want a hug," Biden replied. "Would you come home with me?"
Biden will meet Wednesday with U.S. Embassy workers in Tokyo and speak with troops stationed at Yokota Air Base. He returns to the United States on Thursday with a brief stayover in Hawaii.