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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #98: January 28, 2005

Women in Japanese Politics - Part Ten: Advances of Women Politicians in 2004

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times) and Jeff Kingston (Professor of History, Temple University Japan)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


Women Politicians' Political Advances in 2004

February 2004 Governor Fusae Ohta wins a second four-year term in Osaka (Japan's second-most populous prefecture), becoming the first women to be reelected as a governor. In 2000, she made history when she was elected as Japan's first female governor. Ohta garnered 1,558,626 votes, more than twice that of her closest challenger, Takenori Emoto, who received 670,717 votes. Ota garnered 64% of the votes cast by women and 51% of the votes cast by men, according an exit poll.

July 2004 Chikage Ogi becomes the first female president of the House of Councilors (Japan's upper chamber). She was appointed Construction Minister under former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in July 2000, becoming the first woman to hold the post. In January 2001, she was appointed as the first Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister, a post created when four government ministries and agencies, including the Construction Ministry, were reorganized into one single ministry. Ogi has been elected to the Upper House five times, making her the longest-serving active Liberal Democratic Party member in the upper chamber. The Lower House has had one female speaker, former Social Democratic Party leader Takako Doi, who served between August 1993 and September 1996.

September 2004 Chieko Noono is appointed Justice Minister. She is noted for having helped enact various progressive laws, including one expanding the protection for victims of domestic violence and an another allowing people with gender identity disorder to change the sex listed on their family registry. Since taking office, she has frequently been the target of the rightwing press who dislike her liberal views. Japan's first female Justice Minister was Ritsuko Nagao, who took up the post in January 1996 under the administration of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

What advances have women made in the political arena?

Sean Curtin: Over the past decade, what genuine advances do you think women have made in the political arena? While we have seen an increase in the number of female politicians at the local and national level, in the November 2003 Lower House election the number of female lawmakers actually dropped slightly from 35 to 34. Women make up just 7.1 percent of the Lower House members, which ranks Japan about 100th in terms of global Lower House representation. On the positive side, the first female governors have emerged, Governor Fusae Ohta won a second four-year term in Osaka last February, there have been two female foreign ministers (Makiko Tanaka and Yuriko Kawaguchi), several senior Cabinet posts held by women for the first time and Chikage Ogi became the first female president of the House of Councilors last July. The picture appears mixed, what is your own perspective on the advancement of women in Japanese politics?

Jeff Kingston: As you say, there are some prominent examples of some women doing quite well. For civil society it will certainly be a positive trend for women when they increase their Lower House representation beyond 7 percent.

Sean Curtin: I also think one of the key problems is the overrepresentation of men in the Japanese parliament, many of whom are middle age or elderly. It is these people who are deciding family policy that directly influences the lives of young women, yet these men have no understanding of the trends that are affecting young people today. Most elderly male lawmakers have a completely different perspective about social change from women and at present women are seriously underrepresented in Japanese politics.

Jeff Kingston: Well, I guess there is a biological solution to the issue of elderly male lawmakers. Hopefully, there is a whole new young generation waiting in the wings.

Sean Curtin: On a rather different political level, there has been serious discussion about changing in rules of succession to the imperial throne to allow women to ascend.

Jeff Kingston: If there isn't a male heir, I think the law will be changed. I also believe that public support for such a move is clear and I don't think that is a problem.

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

Profile Jeff Kingston
Jeff Kingston has taught at Temple University Japan since 1987 where he is currently Director of Asian Studies and Professor of History. His talk will focus on his recently published book, Japan's Quiet Transformation: Social Change and Civil Society in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2004). Dr. Kingston has regularly contributed to the Japan Times since 1988 in addition to a variety of other regional publications.

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