Anyone wondering why Japan is skirting yet another recession should spend an hour with lawmaker Seiko Noda.

In a nation that chronically underappreciates the talents of women (Japan trails Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh in terms of the number of females in politics), Noda is a trailblazer. In 1989, at 37, she became Japan’s youngest post-war Cabinet member. Her skill in navigating around the jeers and contempt of male colleagues caught the attention of then-Japanese leader Keizo Obuchi, who famously dubbed Noda “the future candidate for female prime minister.”

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