Despite the claims of democracy and modernization, women in Japanese
politics are about as welcome as a dragon tattoo in a sento. The smug fat cats in
suits who' controlled Japan throughout the twentieth century still have a firm grip on
power but Doi Takako has done more than most to try to break that stranglehold.
Currently leader of the Social Democratic Party, it was Doi who achieved the highest
government rank that a woman has held so far that of Speaker of the House.
Doi entered political life in 1969, after a career as a lecturer at first Kansei Gakuin
University and then Seiwa Women's University. The 1970s and '80s were a long, hard
struggle against the prejudices of the male-dominated, corruption-riddled bureaucracy that
passed for a government, a fight that was well- documented in her biography "My
Way" (she hasn't commented on how much of her ideology has been inspired by Sinatra).
In 1986 she was elected Chairperson of the SDPJ and became a media celebrity, sparking a
so-called "Madonna boom" - a wave of women who aspired to enter politics and
follow her example. In 1989 came her first serious battle, over the new consumption tax,
which she and her party campaigned against. The tax was introduced, and the ruling LDP
party was voted in once more - but suffered heavy losses, while Doi's party won many new
seats. This led her to utter her most famous one-liner, "The mountain has
The greatest triumph so far came in the election of 1993, when the fifty-year rule of the
LDP finally came to an end. The House of Representatives elected Hosokawa Morihiro as
Prime Minister, and Doi as speaker of the House. It was a time, the media claimed, for a
great change; the new liberal forces would sweep through the halls of power, bringing a
cleaner, more open style of government.
However, the bureaucrats weren't giving up without a fight. Hosokawa was forced to resign
in 1994 under extremely suspicious circumstances, and a coalition "caretaker"
government took over. SDPJ Chairperson Murayama Tomiichi became Prime Minister, and a
series of behind-closed-door deals led to the increase of the consumption tax from 3% to
5% and the eventual reinstatement of the LDP as ruling party.
Doi's tenure as Speaker of the House came to an end in 1996, and she resumed her post as
leader of the SDPJ. Her political future now looks uncertain. Last year, Prime Minister
Obuchi Keizo negotiated an alliance with Ozawa Ichiro, leader of the Liberal Party, which
looks set to squeeze out other parties. Doi's unwillingness to compromise, and her battle
cry of Kipparito Shaminto ("an independent SDP") has put her party on
What happened to the Madonna Boom? Political commentator Nancy Brown Diggs has pointed out
that modern Japanese women are still very reluctant to join political parties. They are,
however, quick to join - and form - community activist groups against direct social
issues, such as the many environmental problems that plague Japan. From these partisan
groups, some of them take the bigger plunge and enter politics.
Doi Takako as Prime Minister? Very unlikely. Japan with a female Prime Minister one day?
It seems unthinkable... but that's what they said about the fall of the Berlin Wall.