National

First woman to head regional Japan Coast Guard office focused on the mission, not her novelty

Kyodo

The first woman to head a regional Japan Coast Guard office said she hopes she can live up to people’s expectations and that her sex should have no bearing on her ability to carry out her duties.

“I have no time to think about gender issues. We have to protect the nation’s territorial waters with fewer personnel than the police,” said 50-year-old Superintendent 2nd Grade Hisako Nakabayashi, who took over command of the Kushikino Coast Guard Office in Kagoshima Prefecture in April.

She is one of roughly 850 women in the Japan Coast Guard, which had about 14,000 personnel as of May.

Born in Miyazaki Prefecture, Nakabayashi moved around a lot while growing up because of her father’s job. Still, she had no real experience with the sea before entering the Japan Coast Guard Academy in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture.

She said she struggled with seasickness at first during training, but overcame it by the time she was commissioned to work at sea.

“I think I overcame it because I was feeling a strong responsibility as a navigation officer and because I was young and a woman,” Nakabayashi said. “I knew there was a need to be taken seriously.”

She was in charge of press relations at the Japan Coast Guard headquarters in 2001 when one of its ships opened fire and apparently sank an armed vessel believed to have been a North Korean spy ship off the coast of Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

She feels that since that incident, ordinary citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect the nation’s territorial waters. “I finally feel the significance of what I have been working for,” she said.

“I don’t intend to do anything special. My only task is to work with my 52 colleagues to live up to the Japanese people’s expectations,” she said.