Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, has long been active in dealing with humanitarian and women’s issues, ranging from sexual harassment to domestic violence to foreigners’ rights.
Born in Miyazaki Prefecture in 1955, she graduated from the University of Tokyo’s law department, where she met her husband, Yuichi Kaido, who is also an activist and well-known lawyer on humanitarian issues and a strong opponent of the death penalty. The couple have a daughter.
However, Fukushima and Kaido are not registered as a married couple and keep their own surnames, believing that women should be able to retain their maiden names after marriage. She is actively pursuing legislation that would grant them this freedom.
Before entering politics, Fukushima often appeared on TV to discuss issues related to women’s rights and marriage. Thanks to her popularity and close relationship with then SDP Chairwoman Takako Doi, she won a seat via the proportional representation segment in the 1998 Upper House election. Since becoming a Diet member, she has served in key posts in the SDP, including secretary general.
She has written numerous books on legal matters and her activities as a lawyer. In one, she described the pleasure she derives from being a politician: “I enjoy interpreting laws, but I feel it is more interesting to make laws.”
The SDP was created in 1996 after taking over from the Social Democratic Party of Japan, which had been the largest opposition force during most of the postwar period until the early 1990s.
At the time of the SDP’s launch, the party was led by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and was in a coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake.
But later that year, many of the right-leaning members bolted and joined other politicians to create the first version of the Democratic Party of Japan.
They also took the backing of most of the labor unions with them, vastly shrinking the SDP’s traditional support base.
Following the SDP’s major defeat in the 2003 election, then party leader Doi stepped down and Fukushima was named to replace her.
Fukushima is not shy about criticizing the DPJ. In 2005, using a food metaphor, she noted there was little difference between the DPJ and the LDP. “The difference between the two parties is like calling one curry and rice, and the other rice and curry. But we, the SDP, are a rice omelet that everyone favors,” she said.
The 53-year-old lawmaker is against shouldering the cost of U.S. military bases in Japan. She also calls for preserving Article 9 of the Constitution.