National

Japanese women see aspirational qualities in ‘de facto first lady’ Ivanka Trump

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Miyu Toyonaga was thrilled when she discovered who had visited her Instagram account last April. It was Ivanka Trump, her fashion icon, and she had liked a photo of Toyonaga with a leather clutch purse from Ivanka’s namesake brand.

The 32-year-old Toyonaga, who works at the Tokyo office of an Australian commercial real estate firm, said she was struck by the elegant style and successful career of the model-turned-business executive when she first saw her Instagram pictures two or three years ago.

“In a way I aspire to be like her,” said the 2012 Miss World Supermodel Japan, who is preparing to set up a fashion e-commerce site like Ivanka. “I would like to keep working even after I have a baby and have the option of living overseas.”

Toyonaga’s views are unlikely to be embraced by those Americans still depressed about the stunning victory of her father, Donald Trump, in the U.S. presidential election in November.

Less than two weeks before he takes office, Ivanka has come under fire for her political ambitions and influence over the president-elect.

Donald Trump’s favorite child is also rumored to be replacing her media-shy stepmother, Melania, as a de facto first lady, as the former Slovenian fashion model stays in New York while her husband moves into the White House this month.

But some 10,800 km away from her glamorous Upper East Side apartment, Ivanka might find more supporters like Toyonaga.

For some Japanese women who struggle to juggle demanding jobs as working professionals, mothers and wives, America’s next “first daughter” might offer her own “Ivanka-ism” or post-feminist wisdom on how to survive in a male-oriented society.

The suave fashion entrepreneur appears to have mastered a successful career and picture-perfect family life with a millionaire husband and three children, without launching an all-out feminist war against what her father represents — a white, male-dominated, capitalist system.

Yuriko Shinzato wears an Ivanka Trump-brand dress for an interview in Tokyo last month.
Yuriko Shinzato wears an Ivanka Trump-brand dress for an interview in Tokyo last month. | YOSHIAKI MIURA

Yuriko Shinzato, 32, a freelance writer and mother of a 5-year-old girl, said she believed Ivanka was the opposite of failed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has often antagonized men in her efforts to climb the corporate and political ladder.

It was clear from her Instagram pictures, Shinzato said, that Instagram-savvy Ivanka marketed her image as a daughter, wife and mother, while finding success in her career.

“It goes without saying that she is very beautiful,” said Shinzato, who has been introducing Ivanka’s fashion and overall lifestyle on her blog and an online publication called 4yuuu!

“But at the same time, she is a good example that a woman can do an outstanding job and handle a misogynist father like Trump, without pushing too much of a feminist agenda or confronting . . . men too much.

“That is something that Japanese women want but have a hard time doing in a still male-dominated society.”

Despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for tapping more female talent, the environment for female working professionals has not improved significantly in Japan.

There remains a massive shortage of nurseries, and incidents of pregnant women being harassed in the workplace still surface.

The suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old worker at powerful and prestigious advertising firm Dentsu, is a sad reminder, however extreme it might be, that aspiring Japanese men and women have to work impossible hours to prove themselves.

Even if they work long hours, women still suffer from a more than 26 percent gender wage gap, which is the third-worst among 35 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

What’s worse, being good at work might not be enough, many say. Some women feel tacit pressure from male co-workers and bosses that they have to be pretty, while dealing with sexist comments and attitudes still rife in Japan.

In her Twitter posts, Takahashi said her boss ridiculed her, saying she lacked female charm and telling her not to come to work with red eyes and messy hair, even though she had almost no time to go home and sleep due to her impossible work load.

Kanako Obuchi, a 36-year-old mother of a kindergartner, said she highly respected Ivanka for succeeding in business while also raising children.

“Women have to work more than twice as much to compete against men, but she has led her father’s business successfully while raising kids,” said Obuchi, who also inherited her father’s staffing firm.

“Ivanka might be better than her father as she is humble but very accomplished in her business,” she added.

Yet the recent admiration is not the first time Ivanka’s life has caught Japanese attention. Magazine 25ans, which offers tips on luxurious fashion and socialite lifestyles, introduced her about 10 years ago. Since the election, Japanese magazines have featured her fashion and married life with millionaire husband Jared Kushner.

Her fashion business has also been getting attention in Japan, in stark contrast to the U.S., where her brand faces boycott calls due to her father’s bad image.

Waja, an online store that sells imported fashion items, saw traffic for Ivanka Trump merchandise spike by 400 times and sales increase 30-fold in November compared with the same period the year before, according to a company representative.

The Ivanka Trump brand might also hit Japanese shores soon. The company is in talks with Japanese apparel-maker Sanei International for a potential launch here, according to Sanei’s parent company, TSI Holdings.

Curiously enough, the government-owned Japan Development Bank is the largest shareholder of TSI Holdings. Such links invited speculation that her participation in Donald Trump’s talks with Abe soon after the election had something to do with the business deal.

Yet Yoshiko Ikoma, a fashion journalist and former editor-in-chief of Marie Claire Japan, said most of Ivanka’s potential customers still do not know much about her, as little is reported about her potential conflict of interests.

“The Ivanka Trump brand would sell as its clothes look like something that’s worn by a daughter from a good family, which is exactly what Japanese working women like,” said Ikoma. “Besides, Japanese people love celebrity brands.”

Still, Ivanka is not free of criticism, even in Japan.

Risako Sakaguchi, a freelance writer and 40-year-old mother-of-three, said Ivanka was just a carbon copy of her father.

Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she has had an advantage since birth, said Sakaguchi, who went to junior high and high school in Canada and worked for a New York PR firm.

“I would view her as a cool woman if she did something completely different from her father, such as joining Doctors Without Borders,” said Sakaguchi. “But everybody can do what she does if they’ve got the money she has.”