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Tomiko Ichikawa, 52, hopes to “be of service to Japan and the world” after taking on her new role in July as special aide to Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Ichikawa, who has garnered extensive experience working at a number of international organizations, became the first Japanese woman to be appointed to the post at the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog. She previously served as ambassador at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna.

Hailing from Saitama Prefecture, during her high school years Ichikawa dreamed of working abroad and putting her English skills to use.

After reading a newspaper article about a woman who successfully became a diplomat, Ichikawa aspired to tread the same path. She entered the Foreign Ministry in 1985.

In the mid-1990s, Ichikawa, then an officer with the United Nations Protection Force, set foot in Sarajevo, the capital of war-ravaged Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a bulletproof vest on.

At the time, the U.N. force was attempting to enforce a cease-fire in rural areas of the country and forge ahead with local reconstruction efforts.

She said their efforts “were unsuccessful in the face of a tough reality” and that she still remembers the feeling of frustration she had at the time.

Ichikawa also represented Japan in the six-party talks between the two Koreas, China, Japan, the United States and Russia, that were aimed at rolling back Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

In 2007, she joined a team sent to inspect the North’s nuclear facilities and verify that disablement work that Pyongyang had agreed to was making progress.

But while the talks seemed to be making progress, they later stalled, and negotiations were suspended in December 2008.

“The situation quickly worsened, as if we were tumbling downhill, and North Korea then conducted a nuclear test in 2009,” she said.

Ichikawa was also involved in the response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that devastated coastal regions of northern Tohoku on March 2011, relaying messages to the Japanese diplomatic corps documenting the changing situation on the ground.

She said that her work always brings her into contact with complicated, taxing realities, and admits she has often asked herself: “Is my job of any help to anyone at all?”

Now as a member of the IAEA, which is tackling the decontamination and dismantling of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, as well as nuclear issues in Iran and North Korea, Ichikawa wants to work for the benefit of Japan and the world.

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