Corporate Japan is still male-dominated, and the nation's trading houses are especially thought to be so because they tend to hire more men to handle tough negotiations overseas and hand women the back-office jobs that support them.

Yet in April, Itochu Corp. promoted Mitsuru Claire Chino to one of its executive officers, making her the first woman — and its youngest employee — to hold such a high-ranking position in a major trading house.

Chino, 47, recalled receiving the phone call from the president's office informing her of the decision.