Delivering on the Promise of Womenomics


March 25, 2014

St. Regis Hotel, Washington, DC 


In the context of the ‘Abenomic’ economic reforms, Prime Minister Abe has given the highest priority ever to the issue of delivering better work-life balance to allow fuller participation of women in Japanese society and thereby address key demographic issues faced within the Japanese economy. As Japan translates this policy vision (referred to as ‘Womenomics’) into concrete steps, the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) seeks to foster a dialogue about how Americans can contribute to the successful promotion of Japanese women in Japan and on the global stage.

This seminar brought together Japan experts with an interest in Japan’s economic and social issues; experts on activities to advance women in the workforce; Japanese and Japanese American professional women with cross-cultural work experience; and interested stakeholders who seek ways to actively contribute to supporting women in Japan’s workforce. Following a concrete review of the situation in Japan and the goals of ‘Womenomics,’ the panel and the audience discussed ways that the U.S. experience can contribute to Japan’s transformation, and looked for specific recommendations for areas of U.S.-Japan cooperation that will support the Abe Administration’s policy goals.


Click here to view photos from the seminar and the reception.


Click here to watch videos from the seminar.


3:00 - 3:05 pm:  Welcome and Opening Remarks - Ms. Irene Hirano Inouye
3:05 - 4:10 pm:  Panel 1: The Goals and Impact of the Abe Administration (Moderator: Ms. Irene Hirano Inouye)
                  1. Keynote Address - Ms. Kumiko Bando
                  2. Special Remarks
                      -Ms. Wendy Cutler
                      -Dr. Kathryn Ibata-Arens
                  3. Audience Q&A

4:20 - 5:25 pm:  Panel 2: Opportunities to Promote Women in the Workforce (Moderator: Ms. Royanne Doi)
                  1. Moderated Questions
                      -Ms. Kim Azzarelli
                      -Ms. Keiko Honda
                      -Ms. Kaoriko Kuge
                      -Ms. Hiroko Kuniya
                  3. Audience Q&A

5:25 - 5:30 pm:  Remarks from a Participant of the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program - Ms. Asuka Kobayashi
                  Closing Remarks -  Ms. Irene Hirano Inouye

5:30 - 7:00 pm:  Networking Reception


- Ms. Irene Hirano Inouye, President, U.S.-Japan Council
- Ms. Royanne K. Doi, Corporate Chief Ethics Officer, Prudential Financial Inc. - Japan Representative Office and Member of the USJC Board of Directors

- Ms. Kim Azzarelli, President, Women in the World Foundation; and Founding Partner, Seneca Point Global
- Ms. Kumiko Bando, Director-General, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan
- Ms. Wendy Cutler, Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Office of the United States Trade Representative
- Ms. Keiko Honda, Executive Vice President, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) of the World Bank Group
- Dr. Kathryn Ibata-Arens, Director, Global Asian Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, DePaul University (USJC Member)
- Ms. Kaoriko Kuge, Senior Anchor and Correspondent, Fujisankei Communications International, Inc.
- Ms. Hiroko Kuniya, Anchor, Close-Up Gendai, NHK-TV, and Member of the USJC Board of Councilors

Click here to read the biographies of all speakers.

Special Guests:

Participants of the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, who will be visiting Washington, DC, will also attend. This is a mentoring and leadership development program that is part of the TOMODACHI Initiative. It is comprised of a group of highly-motivated Japanese female freshman and sophomore university students paired with Japanese female mid-career professionals. Ms. Asuka Kobayashi, Keio University student, represented the group and spoke at the seminar.

Click here for a detailed description of the program and list of participants.


The seminar drew a capacity crowd consisting of individuals from the U.S. and Japanese governments, thinktanks, businesses, media and USJC Members.

First Panel:
The first panel, moderated by USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, laid out the goals and impact of the Abe Administration. Ms. Kumiko Bando, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), delivered the keynote address, providing an overview of the promotion of women in Japan, and explained how the Japanese government intends to meet its target of raising the percentage of women occupying leadership posts to at least 30% by 2020. (Watch the video of Ms. Bando’s keynote address here.)

Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler discussed why women are important to U.S.-Japan relations.  “Japan is a both a driver of economic growth around the world and a partner of the United States in promoting economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region,” she said. “Our economies are closely linked. The U.S. is vested in the future prosperity of Japan. So in many ways, Japan’s women hold the key.” She listed elements that could help Japan: new attitudes, implementation of programs for childcare benefits and more flexible work policies allowing for a better work-life balance, more mentoring by women leaders, nurturing of both men and women leaders by workplaces and schools, and shorter work days. (Watch the video of Acting Deputy USTR Cutler’s speech here.) She also recommended that young women stay upbeat, and have a can-do personality and a sense of humor.

Dr. Kathryn Ibata-Arens, Director of Global Asian Studies at DePaul University and USJC Member, shared her research while weaving in stories from her own experience living there. She emphasized the importance of mentorship beyond “nomikai” (networking after work over drinks or dinner), connections through professional networks, and signaling to the economic market and business culture the importance of womenomics by implementing procurement policies that favor firms led by women. (Read the PowerPoint of Dr. Ibata-Arens’s presentation here.)

Second Panel:
The second panel was moderated by Ms. Royanne Doi, Corporate Chief Ethics Officer at Prudential Financial, Inc. and Member of the USJC Board of Directors. Ms. Hiroko Kuniya, Anchor of Close-Up Gendai, NHK-TV and Member of the USJC Board of Councilors, said that the mood in Japan has changed, and that there’s now a virtuous cycle of corporations and policies feeding on each other. She also said that on the other hand, there still needs to be changes in the mentality of the middle management, which is often inflexible to top-down initiatives. She shared that her failures have turned out to be her biggest strengths and told the young women in the audience, “Speak out, and don’t be afraid to fail.”

Asked about her career as a Japanese woman working in the United States, Ms. Kaoriko Kuge, Senior Anchor and Correspondent at Fujisankei Communications International, Inc., shared her experience: she built the courage to tell her Japanese boss about her pregnancy, worked with her company for a seamless transition and succeeded in balancing both her work and family life. “It’s not that difficult,” she said. “The problem is all in your mindset. How do you change that? You need a role model.” (Watch the video of Ms. Kuge’s story here.) She also discussed the possibility of establishing quotas for Womenomics, which many European countries are now considering.

Ms. Keiko Honda, Executive Vice President of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) of the World Bank Group, discussed her upbringing in Japan, her career at McKinsey and her work with Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives). When she wavered whether to move to Washington, DC to join MIGA last year, it was her 16-year-old daughter who pushed her. “I’d found a mentor at home,” she said.

Ms. Kim Azzarelli, President of Women in the World Foundation and Founding Partner of Seneca Point Global, said that even compared to five years ago, there has been progress in that we now know women’s participation in the economy drives global growth. The reason we still have big gaps, she explained, is that because there is a “design flaw”: for example, the school day ends at 3pm but the work day ends at 5pm, which is a difficult situation for working mothers. She also discussed the importance of procurement, connecting women to core business strategies and “telling stories” of successes and failures.

Ms. Doi conducted a “lightning round” for the panelists to give one last comment or advice to young women. Ms. Kuniya said that Japan now needs to move beyond the positive mood and go to an “evidence-based” stage of Womenomics, and that this is a field in which the United States could help Japan. Ms. Kuge told the young women in the audience to “have the courage to do what you love,” regardless of what anyone says. Ms. Honda said that women need to find real mentors to “tell you how things work,” and that the government may be able to help this by establishing a quota. Ms. Azzarelli advised, “Put your best foot forward and let the results go. There’s always something around the corner. Show up, be interested, and be positive.” (Watch the video of the lightning round here.)

After the conclusion of the second panel, Ms. Asuka Kobayashi, participant of the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, discussed her experience with the program and their visit to the United States. (Watch the video of Ms. Kobayashi’s remarks here.) Ms. Hirano Inouye gave closing remarks.

March 25, 2014 at 12pm - 3pm
St. Regis Hotel
923 16th St NW
Washington, DC
United States
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