Many foreign media are highlighting Kono's fluency in English and his broad connections in Washington. The descriptions of him include being a "maverick" and an "iconoclast".
The 54-year-old is known for being vocal about his political beliefs. He has criticized the government's policies over spent nuclear fuel after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. But after the first Cabinet meeting Kono emphasized he's a team player.
"I will not be shy about actively debating within the administration," he said. "But once a policy decision is made, I'll do my utmost as a cabinet member to carry it out."
South Korean and Chinese media are focusing on the fact the new foreign minister is the son of Yohei Kono, who was also in cabinet under previous administrations.
In 1993, as chief cabinet secretary, the elder Kono issued a statement expressing sincere apologies and remorse to women recruited to work in comfort stations during World War Two.
Tensions remain between Japan and the two countries over this and other issues from that time.
Some media reports expressed hope that the older Kono's influence will rub off on his son. But whatever the new foreign minister's views, he's expected to follow the prime minister's lead.
During Abe's first term, Abe said he had no plans on revising the 1993 Kono statement.
But his cabinet did approve a document saying the government had no evidence that directly proved the then Japanese military or government officials took the women away through coercion.
In a speech marking an anniversary of the war's end, Abe upheld his predecessors' recognition of Japan's war history. But some said it was ambiguous and fell short of an apology.
After the cabinet reshuffle Thursday, Abe stressed he completely trusts his new foreign minister.
"Our position was made clear in my statement marking 70 years since the end of World War Two," Abe said. "The statement was approved by the Cabinet. And Minister Kono's position completely matches it."
Kono says he's looking ahead, hoping to deepen friendship with Japan's neighbors.
"I know there are various issues we need to discuss, but I hope we can have talks that are future-oriented," he said.
Those talks may happen soon. His first trip in the new role happens Sunday, when Kono heads off to the Philippines for an ASEAN meeting. He says he hopes to speak with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts on the sidelines.