By Claire Zillman
July 31, 2017

In January, NPR reported that “for the first time in Japanese history three women of different political persuasions are in positions that could be stepping stones to the prime minister’s office.”

Seven months later, two of those three women are out of their high-profile roles.

Renho Murata, leader of Japan’s opposition Democratic Party (DP), stepped down from the job on Thursday following the DP’s poor showing in Tokyo’s assembly election earlier this month.

And on Friday, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada resigned amid a dispute over peacekeeping operations in South Sudan that contributed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plunging popularity. Inada is accused of trying to cover up an internal document that suggested Japanese peacekeepers engaged in combat in South Sudan, which is barred by Japanese’s post-World War II pacifist laws. Inada denies any cover-up but admits she fumbled the matter.

The last woman standing is Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and her political star appears to be on the rise as her Tokyoites First party won 49 of 127 assembly seats in Tokyo’s local election, a victory for all but one of the candidates it fielded.

The downfall of Renho and Inada doesn’t just dim Japan’s prospects for its first-ever female prime minister; it’s also being seen as a setback for Japanese women more broadly. The women’s rise was celebrated as the start of a new era of female power in the patriarchal nation where women are underrepresented in the workforce and in politics, making up roughly 10% of parliament. In 2015, the government walked back its goal of getting women into 30% of private sector management roles by 2020 after realizing it would miss the target by a wide margin.

There were skeptics to the fanfare. Citing Abe’s failure to deliver on his “womenomics” agenda and prevalent sexism, Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, wrote in September that despite the trio’s ascent “overall, politics in Japan remains a man’s world.”

After last week’s resignations, it’s even more so.



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