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Prime minister hopes move boosts credentials on gender diversity

Abe matches Koizumi by naming five women to lineup

by Mizuho Aoki and Eric Johnston

Staff Writers

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday named five female lawmakers as ministers, putting his money where his mouth is on female empowerment in the workforce.

Only once before have there been five female ministers, in 2001, under reformist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe hopes the move will boost his Cabinet’s credentials on gender diversity, win international praise and get more women to vote for the Liberal Democratic Party in nationwide local elections next spring.

Most of the women are right-wing lawmakers who share Abe’s attitudes on history and whose records suggest that, on certain issues, they may stand even further to the right. One is considered a moderate and, at the age of 40, represents the younger generation.

Abe picked the five Cabinet ministers and a party executive from the LDP’s small pool of 40 female lawmakers. More than 90 percent of the party is male.

Tomomi Inada, 55, the new LDP policy chief, is unflinching when it comes to public controversies. An ardent defender of Japan’s war record, she gained notoriety overseas in February 2008 by criticizing Japanese government funding for the film “Yasukuni,” whose producer and director were Chinese.

Inada was one of a handful of LDP members who signed a June 14, 2007, advertisement in The Washington Post disputing the Japanese government’s involvement in recruiting the so-called comfort women. The ad appeared during Abe’s first stint as prime minister and just as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on Japan to accept responsibility for the festering issue.

Internal Affairs and Communication Minister Sanae Takaichi, 53, is particularly close to Abe, and has more international experience than some of her fellow ministers, having worked for U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Democrat, in 1987.

Takaichi, one of the strongest supporters of nuclear power in the Diet, espouses similarly right-wing views on Japanese history. In 2002, she opposed efforts to relocate the enshrined souls of Class-A war criminals from Yasukuni Shrine to a new, nonreligious war memorial that was being proposed to solve the shrine controversy. She is a member of a Diet group that visits the shrine on Aug. 15 to mark Japan’s surrender anniversary every year and has publicly defended the pivotal 1931 Manchurian Incident (Mukden Incident) and the 1937 Sino-Japanese War as acts of self-defense.

Eriko Yamatani, 63, will be minister in charge of the abduction issue. She has a lower profile than Inada and Takaichi but is known to be close to Abe. She regularly visits Yasukuni Shrine and urges the prime minister to follow suit. She was a special adviser to Abe during his first, short stint as prime minister between 2006 and 2007.

Meanwhile, junior lawmaker Haruko Arimura, the minister in charge of female empowerment and administrative reform, also belongs to a Diet group that promotes lawmaker visits to Yasukuni.

Abe appointed Yuko Obuchi, 40, as trade minister. Obuchi represents the generation of younger, more politically moderate female politicians — a kind that may appeal widely to Japanese voters and win foreign praise. The daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who died in office after a stroke in April 2000, she took over her father’s constituency in the Gunma No. 5 district after working as his secretary and following a stint as an assistant director at the Tokyo Broadcasting System television network.

Obuchi publicly backs the right of married women to use their maiden name rather than adopt their husband’s surname and is an advocate for better child care.

The mother of two boys, aged 4 and 6, Obuchi became the youngest Cabinet minister when she accepted the gender portfolio at age 34 in 2008. The following year she became the first serving minister to give birth.

Promoting women is one of the many ideas being touted under “Abenomics,” the three-pronged economics program aimed at beating inflation and boosting the economy. The government wants to promote the ratio of women in leadership positions in the public and private sectors to 30 percent by 2020.

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