The Game Mother Taught Me: Beyond Japan's Old Boys' Networks

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                        The Game Mother Taught Me
                        Beyond Japan’s Old Boys’ Networks
                                                                                                             Yuriko koike
e n g e n d e r i n g




                            In 2008, I was appointed as Japan’s Minister of
                        Defense, a post that oversees the 270,000 members                 Yuriko koike is a Japanese politician cur-
                        of the Japanese Army, Navy, and Air Force—Japan’s                 rently serving in the House of representatives
                        self-defense forces—as well as thousands of civilian              of Japan for Tokyo’s tenth district. She served
                        defense officials within the ministry. Since I was                as Japan’s first ever female Minister of De-
                        the first woman ever to hold that office in Japanese              fense.
                        history, I believe that my appointment opened up
                        great new opportunities for Japanese women.
                            My appointment came about in an abrupt way.                     Although I was serving in Prime Minister
                        Fumio Kyuma, the then Minister of Defense, made                 Shinzo Abe’s office as Special Adviser for National
                        a speech at a college where he said, “I now have                Security Affairs at the time, my sudden nomination
                        come to accept in my mind that in order to end the              came as a complete surprise. Both domestic and
                        war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was             international media widely reported the news of
                        dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers                  my appointment and a photograph of me receiving
                        of people suffered great tragedy.” Appearing on a               the salute from a military honor guard. Many won-
                        TV morning news show soon after, he said that he                dered if a woman would be able to take command
                        did not think an apology would be necessary for                 of Japan’s entire armed forces.
                        that statement. Voters were appalled, and so was                    I assumed my post at a time when Japan’s secu-
                        the government. The statements seemed especially                rity concerns in Asia were growing both in depth
                        callous considering the fact that he had been elected           and complexity, with China’s continuing its vast
                        to represent Nagasaki. Kyuma was forced to resign               military build-up, North Korea’s showing no sign
                        his post.                                                       of stopping its push to develop a nuclear weapon,

                        52   H A r V A r D I N T e r N A T I O N A l r e V I e w • Spring 2010
                                            Features




                                                                                                                          T he G ame m oTher T auGhT m e
and some strains appearing in the US-Japan alliance       for a country like Japan with few natural resources,
due to ongoing negotiations about the location of a       creating ties with better-endowed countries was
US military base on Okinawa. These were merely a          necessary for our survival.
few among the many issues confronting me.
    Besides those major security concerns, I had          The Transition: Student to Politician
other, more mundane but unique worries: what,                 with my mother’s guidance and the strength
for example, should I wear to take the salute from        that she had bestowed upon me, my first challenge
the honor guard? The traditional formal attire            started in 1971 when I was 19-years-old. In Cairo,
for women in Japan is a kimono bearing the fam-           my education was not just from the university but
ily crest. As a child, my mother had taught me to         from the people of the city. I was forced to grow up
walk in the short, pigeon-toed way you do while           quickly and come to terms with the realities of the
wearing a kimono, but somehow 
				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: In 2008, the author was appointed as Japan's Minister of Defense, a post that oversees the 270,000 members of the Japanese Army, Navy, and Air Force -- Japan's self-defense forces -- as well as thousands of civilian defense officials within the ministry. Since she was the first woman ever to hold that office in Japanese history, she believes that her appointment opened up great new opportunities for Japanese women. Her appointment came about in an abrupt way. Achieving gender equality in Japanese politics has been a long and difficult process that has taken many decades. Today, women can vote or run for office in Japan as easily as they breathe, but under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, promulgated in 1889, Japanese women were almost suffocated. People now consider women like her to be part of the third generation, whose members campaign on their own ability and do not see limitations to their pursuits.
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