Doi Takako

(Hyogo Prefecture, 1928-2014)

Doi Takako One of the most prominent women in 20th century Japanese politics, Doi Takako took on the prevalent sexist thinking of the day in 1969 to enter the Diet as a member of the Japan Socialist Party (known as the Social Democratic Party of Japan, or SDP, from 1991). During her time as leader, she transformed the party and made it into a relevant political force, though since the turn of the century it has greatly declined and is now a minor party.

In her early years, Doi planned to follow in the footsteps of her physician father. She later changed tack and studied law at the prestigious Doshisha University. After an almost 20-year career as a university lecturer, Doi one day came across an erroneous report in her local newspaper that said she was running for a seat in the Lower House. When she visited the Mayor's office to clarify the situation, she was greeted with the remark "Well of course. You would be stupid to run in a race that you have no chance of winning!" Angered by the sexist implication, she vowed to get herself elected. Which she did - for seven consecutive terms.

At first, she was less than popular among her predominantly male colleagues, who questioned her lack of femininity and her single status. She described her struggles in her biography 'My Way'. But standing at 170cm and armed with a husky voice and formidable debating skills, she was more than a match for her male counterparts. Also, her sunny disposition and straight talking won her considerable popularity among the general public. On the basis of her popular support, she was chosen as party chairwoman in 1986 - the first woman ever to lead a major political organization in Japan. A wave of Doi fever known as the 'Madonna Boom' swept the country carrying with it many women into political careers. As leader she moved the party away from its extremist Marxist-Leninist ideology to a more centrist position and also exposed many financial and sex scandals in the ruling LDP.

Doi Takako

1989 saw her first major political battle: her party led the opposition to a new 3% sales tax proposed by the LDP. The tax was introduced and later the LDP was voted in once again but with considerable losses against major wins for the JSP causing her to utter her famous line "The mountain has moved." She then led her party to a stunning victory over the long-dominant LDP in the 1993 elections. Hosokawa Morihiro became Prime Minister and Doi was chosen as the first ever female Speaker of the House. A new era of change, liberalism and clean, open government was predicted by the media. But the powerful bureaucracy and the old warhorses of the LDP were not beaten yet. Hosokawa was forced to resign in 1994 under suspicious circumstances and replaced by the SDP's Murayama Tomiichi. The controversial sales tax was increased to 5% and the LDP eventually worked its way back into power.

Doi's tenure as Speaker ended in 1996 and she returned to the leadership of her party. The SDP's independent stance in an era of coalitions meant a move back into the political wings. Doi resigned as leader in 2003, taking responsibility for significant election losses, and the party's decline has continued since.

Doi died on September 20, 2014 at the age of 85 and is remembered as a pioneer for women in Japanese politics and society.