State minister Seiko Noda
(By JUDIT KAWAGUCHI)
Seiko Noda, 48, is Japan's state minister in charge of science and technology policy, food safety, consumer affairs and space policy. As a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and of Prime Minister Taro Aso's Cabinet, she is entrusted with running 21 different departments. Not one to crack under pressure, Noda is a powerhouse who thrives on responsibility, whether in setting policies for Japan's information- technology industry or combating the graying of Japan. Ever since she entered the political arena in 1987, Noda has been a rebel with many causes whose dedication has earned her both praise and criticism. In 1998, she became the youngest minister of the postwar era when she was appointed minister of posts and telecommunications. In 2005, however, she was ousted from the LDP for opposing then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal reforms. Still, Noda didn't budge: Regardless of the consequences, she kept her position on the issues. Today, she is back in the LDP, with more power than ever before, proving that sticking to one's beliefs can payoff:
Power requires great responsibility. Some people want to be in a position of power just to feel good. That was never my goal. How to use power is key: If I am thinking of becoming the prime minister one day, it is only so I can improve my country and the world. Having such a huge responsibility means handling life-and-death matters.
Politicians must be top salespeople. Although Japan is the leader in technology, unfortunately we are not very good at sales. For example, H-IIA is Japan's primary space-launch vehicle, the most reliable rocket on earth — or, I should say, in orbit — with 93 percent of all launches successful, yet we are basically producing it for domestic use. Kaguya, our lunar explorer, is 10 times more accurate than the second-best one in the world, and yet we have not sold one yet. On the commercial market, Japan is lagging way behind the United States and the EU. We must change our attitude and not only make great things, but also sell them well.
Lincoln envisioned a government of the people, by the people, for the people. In Japan, government is by men and for men, with most laws protecting men and keeping women in a lower position economically and socially. My job is to make sure that women and children get the rights they are supposed to have.
I knew in the sixth grade that I wanted to be a politician. I wrote an essay about making the city cleaner and more beautiful as the minister of the environment. Almost 40 years ago, who was thinking of the environment? Maybe only children!
A nation's strength is not measured in its military capabilities but in its environmental power. That's Japan's strength: We are the world leader in environmentally sound energy sources, from hybrid cars to solar power. Our nuclear power plant development is the most advanced in the world, because we have been constantly developing new technologies.
Real business success means that both sides are happy. That is the Japanese style of business: having a win-win strategy.
Japan is one of the most energy-efficient countries on earth. When car-emission regulations were first introduced, we not only fulfilled the requirements, but continually developed better technologies. No matter how the rules change, we always improve and do better than expected. We enjoy the process. According to the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the top three cars and trucks in terms of fuel-mileage rankings for 2009 are Japanese, as are a total of six out of the top 10.
Science is a tool for world peace. Wars break out for control of food or other essential resources, but science can prevent fighting. For example, we can use technology to transform dry desert land into fertile soil so people can grow their own food. We can eliminate hunger through science and technology.
Family diversity should be the norm everywhere. Every person has the right to create the family he or she would like. I am single but hope to have a child in the future. If I find a partner, wonderful; and if not, I would still want to have a child. According to Japanese law, though, I would have difficulty adopting, and surrogate motherhood is also outside the legal framework.
Everyone should have the right to keep his or her last name after marriage. In 2001, my partner and I had a lovely, unofficial ceremony and moved in together. I called him my husband since we considered ourselves married even though we weren't according to Japanese law. Our reason was simple: We both wanted to keep our last names, and that was ? and is ? still not allowed by our archaic legal system. One of us must change his or her last name to the other person's. Since we are both politicians and already had careers, that was not an option for us.
One of my missions is to increase the number of female politicians. Right now in Japan, only about 12 percent of Diet members are women, while in Sweden the ratio is about 47 percent.
Always be nice to younger people. When I entered politics, I was not only the youngest Diet member, I was a woman among mostly elderly men. It was so tough. I don't want anyone to feel like I did, so I now act like an older sister to young Diet members, especially to women, because there are still so few of us. We need to support each other.
There are parts of our lives over which we have absolutely no control. I met my husband when I was 40. We tried to conceive naturally but unfortunately couldn't. I began IVF treatments and got pregnant once, on my eighth trial. We were so happy, but tragically our baby didn't make it and I had to be hospitalized. As the doctors were rolling me into an operating room on a stretcher, I took the doctor's hand and began weeping. For the first time in my life, I was entrusting my being to another person; to my doctor. I had always been strong and in control, but not then; not anymore. I could not stop crying. Later on I wrote a book for the child and for other women who struggle and are in pain.
Who stole our future? We did. In Japan, a woman who wants a baby risks losing her career. As long as this situation continues, Japan's future is dark and childless. We must all protect our nation's powerhouse, the children, and we as a nation should raise them and help their parents in every way possible.