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If Seiko Noda doesn’t achieve her quarter-century goal to become the nation’s first female prime minister, maybe one of the 70-odd women who filed into a conference room to hear her speak Sunday will.

The women — smartly dressed, ages 15 to 69 — comprised the inaugural class of Noda’s first-of-its-kind school for female politicians. Noda, 57, who is Japan’s internal affairs and communications minister and long-shot candidate to replace Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this year, plans to use the forum to prepare a new generation of women for the challenges of political leadership in the male-dominated society.

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