"No More Pitiful Me"
by Nancy Snow (a sometime singer/songwriter)
Well I met the mayor of Yokohama
And I am naming names
Hayashi impressed me with hard work
Just like all Japan's dames
Yes, she really impressed me with hard work
She was a credit to her gender
Made good on her childcare promise
Sort of like a goodwill sender
[Sung to the tune of Linda Ronstadt's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"]
Here in Tokyo the city is buzzing with excitement about the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, the first woman to hold that position. When she presented her diplomatic credentials to Japan's emperor -- a journey that took her by horse-drawn carriage from her residence to the Imperial Palace -- thousands of Japanese came out to greet her.
But she's not the only rock star woman in Japan.
Japan is teeming with exceptionally hard-working, bright and articulate women who could be Japan's leading indicators of success. They are often closed off from prominent positions like precious and fragile jewels. And when they are put on public display, other women gather around them like moths to flame.
One of those flames of hope and role modeling is Fumiko Hayashi. Remember her name.
Hayashi is mayor of Yokohama, Japan. Born in 1946 and just eighteen months older than Hillary Clinton, Hayashi graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan Aoyama High School and began working at age 18. She worked her way up the ladder of auto sales to become the president of Fahren Tokyo K.K. (known today as Volkswagen Japan Sales K.K.), president of BMW Tokyo and Tokyo Nissan Auto Sales. She was also the CEO of The Daiei, Inc., one of the largest supermarket chains in Japan. In 2008 she was named one of Fortune magazine's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business: International."
In Japan, Mayor Hayashi is an exception, not the rule. Japan is just not competing with other developed countries when it comes to women in prominent positions in society. A 2012 IMF Report concluded that Japan's GDP per capita would rise at least 4 percent if women increased their participation in the workforce. Over 60 percent of Japanese women quit their jobs after having a baby. Most will never return to the workplace. Those who stay occupy just ten percent of management-level posts, the lowest of all developed countries. This gender gap in the labor force costs Japan 6 trillion yen (61 billion dollars), according to the Dentsu Innovation Institute.
Yokohama was a fun word to say after I first heard it in Linda Ronstadt's signature song, "Poor Poor Pitiful Me."
The lyrics are by "Werewolves of London" singer Warren Zevon. Sometimes it feels like there are more werewolves in London than women in prominent positions in Japanese society.
"Poor pitiful me" or another Japanese expression, shikata ga nai, may very well be the refrain of so many working women in Japan who need childcare facilities so that they can continue to support their families and move up the career ladder. Tens of thousands of Japanese families have their children on daycare waiting lists.
But Yokohama is far from poor and this mayor is anything but pitiful. Fumiko Hayashi is mayor of a major port city and Japan's second largest city to Tokyo with a population of 3.7 million. (The Greater Tokyo Area is over 35 million.)
Just south of Yokohama, Commodore of the U.S. Navy Matthew Perry arrived with a fleet of American warships using a bit of hard power persuasion that led to Japan's Tokugawa shogunate opening this then very isolated island nation to foreign commerce and trade.
Today Yokohama is an affluent bedroom community to Tokyo, and Mayor Hayashi is a soft power folk hero to Japanese parents.
In 2009 Hayashi made a promise when she was first elected that she would reduce from over 1,500 to zero the number of children on waiting lists for daycare openings. New public and private facilities were built and daycare providers were trained, including "nursery concierge" services. Moms who elected to take care of their children full-time were provided with community centers that allowed a way to socialize with other stay-at-home moms and their children. Hayashi is now working with Prime Minister Abe to apply her "Yokohama Method" to the rest of Japan.
In August 2013 the citizens of Yokohama elected Hayashi to a second term. Let's just say the people of Yokohama know a good thing when they've got it.
One can't hold an intelligent conversation about Japan's nation brand image today without referencing the need to empower its women, the most natural untapped renewable energy source this country has outside of wind and solar.
Even Prime Minister Abe is smart enough or advised well enough to acknowledge womenomics in the same breath as Abenomics. Empowerment of women is now part of his growth strategy for Japan. Imagine that. Placing qualified women in private and public sector leadership positions affects the bottom line. Who knew?
This is a country whose Global Gender Gap ranking is 105 out of 136, which places women in Japan near the bottom of all countries in economic, political, education and health categories. Women are visible in numbers at the bottom, they are surely visible in sexualized media, but they are not visible among the brain trust suites in higher education, government ministries and executive corner offices.
On Wednesday, November 27, 2013, Ambassador Kennedy gave her first public speech at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, a day that coincided with her 56th birthday. Looking at the sea of people, she quipped, "I've never had a party this big."
Kennedy took the opportunity to reference the centerpiece of Japan's future survival:
When women are empowered, the entire society benefits. I believe the prime minister understands that this is not just a women's issue. It's a man's issue, it's a family issue; it's an economic and a national security issue, and it's a moral issue.
Somewhere I picture Mayor Hayashi beaming right now.