Doi Takako

Doi TakakoDespite 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 moved."

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 shaky ground.

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.

John Paul Catton

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
Issues 248/9 -