p o l i t i c s Features
The Game Mother Taught Me
Beyond Japan’s Old Boys’ Networks
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
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