Abe, Shinzo

Ivanka Trump, a Media Darling in Japan, Draws Lukewarm Turnout in Tokyo

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Still, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is one of Mr. Trump’s closest allies among world leaders and Mr. Abe has steadfastly supported the Trump administration in its aggressive stance toward North Korea.

Commentators in Japan have suggested Ms. Trump played an instrumental role in planting the seeds of that relationship, which has since blossomed with the leaders’ shared love of golf, which they are scheduled to play during Mr. Trump’s visit.


Ms. Trump arriving in Tokyo on Thursday. President Trump is scheduled to arrive Sunday as the first stop of an Asia tour. Credit Issei Kato/Reuters

“Mr. Trump didn’t like Japan at first,” Katsuya Konishi, a journalist, said on a morning news show on TV Asahi on Friday. “But he gradually changed his mind. I think it was the influence of Ivanka. She said Prime Minister Abe is smart and advised Mr. Trump to listen to him.”

Ms. Trump’s appearance at the World Assembly for Women added a touch of celebrity glamour to the event, and was consistent with Mr. Abe’s approach to female empowerment, in which public gestures have outstripped genuine change.

In his introductory remarks at the Friday event, Mr. Abe invoked his oft-stated goal of creating a society in which women can “shine.” But concrete changes have been slow to materialize. This week, the World Economic Forum released its annual Global Gender Gap Report, which ranked Japan 114th out of 144 countries in making progress toward gender equality. In a parliamentary election last month, women won about only one in 10 seats.

And while Mr. Abe said that 1.5 million more women have joined the work force since he became prime minister five years ago, making women about 45 percent of the total in Japan, more than half of them work in part-time jobs with lower benefits and fewer hopes of career advancement.

“What is Ivanka Trump going to be to Japan more than a celebrity figure?” said Nancy Snow, a professor of diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies who attended the speech. “Is she really going to up the ante here or move the needle? It’s sort of window dressing and making Japan maybe feel better about itself, despite these statistics.”

Among Japanese, reaction to Ms. Trump’s visit reflected some entrenched attitudes toward women. Several commentators on TV Asahi noted the salmon-colored, miniskirted suit that Ms. Trump wore to her speech, and one suggested that her skirt was “rather short” for a presidential adviser.

Several women who attended Ms. Trump’s speech commented on her appearance in explaining why they admired her.

“She is a beautiful female leader,” Rena Hayakawa, 21, a political science major at Meiji University in Tokyo, said before the speech. “Her fashion is great. She is a role model for women.” Maina Tanaka, 33, a financial trade dealer, said that she appreciated Ms. Trump’s “fair views on politics and economy” and that she respected how Ms. Trump “stays positive and gorgeous.”


In remarks at the Friday event, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invoked his oft-stated goal of a society in which women can “shine,” but changes in Japan’s gender parity have been slow to take shape. Credit Pool photo by Eugene Hoshiko

Mieko Nakabayashi, a professor of politics at Waseda University, said Ms. Trump’s glamour would draw attention to the cause of women.

“She’s not just an official, but also a princess of the president,” said Ms. Nakabayashi, who spent a decade working as a budget staff member in the United States Senate. “So that kind of celebrity is really liked in Japan.”

Ms. Nakabayashi added that many Japanese women were not yet conscious about the large pay gap between men and women. “Therefore, for the Japanese government, getting attention is really an important step.”

In her speech, Ms. Trump focused on initiatives in the United States, citing the president’s budget plan for paid family leave and his administration’s proposed tax changes, which she said would “put more money back in the pockets of hard-working Americans.”

She also called for countries like the United States and Japan to “empower women who live in countries that prevent them from leading.”

In Mr. Abe’s introductory remarks, he said Japan would contribute $50 million to the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, a program that aims to lend money to women’s businesses that Ms. Trump helped introduce at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in July.

Critics noted that Ms. Trump, who did not take any questions from the audience or the news media, did not address concerns about how workers are treated at factories in China and Indonesia that manufacture clothing for the fashion brand that Ms. Trump founded.

Over the summer, Ms. Trump’s brand called off a deal with a large Japanese clothing company after learning that its largest shareholder was a government-owned bank.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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