Doi Takako

Elected the chairperson of the Japan Socialist Party in 1986, Doi Takako (born 1928) led the party to larger victories at the polls and in a financial revival of the party, but was forced to resign in 1991. She also mobilized Japanese women

Doi Takako was a unique phenomenon in Japanese political history. She was elected the tenth chairperson of the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), and the first-ever woman leader of any Japanese political party, in September 1986, in the wake of the party's devastating defeat in the House of Representatives (lower house) and House of Councillors (upper house) elections held simultaneously only a few weeks before. Not only did her arrival as the JSP's top leader overnight raise the JSP's popularity by nearly 5 percentage points, but the chronically money-starved party made nearly half a million dollars within the next 12 months by selling some 300,000 telephone cards bearing her picture and autograph, each worth 500 yen and priced at 800 yen, and some 40,000 copies of ornamental cards (shiskishi) with her calligraphy and autograph on them. She was, as the press immediately dubbed her, the JSP's "Great Savior" and "Jeanne d'Arc."

Doi Takako was born in Kobe on November 30, 1928, a second daughter to Niroichi, a successful 33-year-old pediatrician, and his 24-year-old wife, Kiyo. With her elder sister, two younger sisters, and two brothers, she grew up in a comfortable middle-class family in a three-storied Western-style house with a pedicab, a convenience upgraded in 1941 to a Ford coupe. She attended Suma Primary School, went to Kobe Girls' High School, and then enrolled in the Department of English Literature at Kyoto Women's College. After two years at the private women's college, she transferred in 1949 to the law school of Doshisha University as a junior and as one of two women among some 200 students in the school. Upon completion of the Bachelor of Arts degree at the well-known private Christian university two years later, she was admitted to the graduate program in the same school as a student of Professor Tabata Shinobu, a constitutional law specialist known for his commitment to pacifism and strict construction of Japan's postwar constitution, especially its famous war-renouncing clause (Article 9).

After earning the Master of Arts degree in 1956, at the age of 27, Doi taught law as a lecturer—a position roughly equivalent to an assistant professor at an American university—at Doshisha from 1957 to 1970 and, simultaneously, at Kwansei University after 1963 and Showa Women's College after 1968. During this period she also served as the secretary-general of both the Constitutional Research Institute, an academic outfit set up by Tabata, and the prefectural branch of the National Coalition to Defend the Constitution, an alliance of leftist groups formed to fight the conservatives' attempt to amend the postwar constitution. She also served on several local public bodies, such as Kobe City's Personnel Commission and Amagasaki City's Social Security Commission and Labor Council.

Doi ran for a Diet seat in the December 1969 lower house general election at the request of the JSP leadership and on her mentor Tabata's advice. She scraped in as the last of the 90 JSP winners in that election. This was the first time she officially joined the JSP. She was subsequently reelected six times before she was elected JSP chairperson in 1986. From the beginning of her parliamentary career she specialized mainly in foreign and defense policy issues, serving continuously on the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee. She quickly became a major voice of the party on a series of important, and often controversial, issues, such as Japanese relations with South Korea, aid to African famine victims, alleged involvement in widespread corruption in the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos' rule, and above all, the revision of the Nationality Law. On the last issue, she was instrumental in the passage in 1985, after six years of intense debate both inside and outside the Diet, of the JSP-sponsored bill to amend the existing patrilineal law and make a child born of a Japanese mother and a foreign father, as well as one born of a Japanese father and a foreign mother, automatically eligible for Japanese citizenship.

In the 1983 change of the JSP's top leadership, Doi was elected one of the four vice-chairpersons. Three years later, in the wake of a "double election" of upper and lower house members in which the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 300 lower house seats, or 50 more, and the JSP 85, or 27 less, than in the previous general election of 1983, she was asked by her desperate fellow JSP leaders to declare herself a candidate for the party's top position. She agreed to this after three days of agonizing indecision. In a ritual party-wide election that followed on September 8, 1986, she beat her nominal challenger, Ueda Tetsu, 58,670 to 11,748, and became the new leader of the vanquished and demoralized party.

Unlike any of her nine predecessors, Chairperson Doi had not headed a string of important party committees and bureaus, nor had she been affiliated with a major intraparty faction, nor had she been sponsored by a large and influential labor union, nor had she earned a reputation as one of the party's great theoreticians. She brought to her new job, however, several qualities that were far more important to a Japanese party leader in the late 1980s and beyond. Not beholden to any special interest groups within or without the party, she enjoyed an unsullied image as a representative of the common people. A smart and discriminating, if a little old-fashioned, dresser, she had the air of a kind and warm-hearted woman who happened, rather than deliberately chose, to stay single. At nearly 5 feet 7 inches in height, trim and athletic, she was physically not imposing but reassuring. In her childhood she played mainly with boys at boys' games, including wrestling, and usually beat them. At the girls' high school she was a great shot-putter on the school's athletic team. Above all, she was unpretentious and down-to-earth: She would sing American jazz hits and popular French chansons at wine bars—one of her great favorites being, not surprisingly, Ella Fitzgerald's "Mack the Knife" with its touch of feminism—and played pinball machines like a professional.

Doi's approach to politics was essentially non-ideological and pragmatic. She had, however, an unshakable belief in and commitment to defend the postwar Japanese constitution, especially its pacifism. This belief and commitment was emotionally grounded in her childhood experiences and memories of the destructive war, especially the fire bombing of Kobe on March 17, 1945, which burned down her family's lovely three-storied house before her own eyes. She and her family escaped by a hair's breadth. While enrolled at the girls' high school, she and her schoolmates were sent first to a hemp mill to help weave hemp fibers into ammunition and sand bags and then to a ball-bearing factory. Subsequently, her original emotional revulsion against war was reinforced at Doshisha University by Tabata's theory of unarmed peace and neutrality. Like her influential mentor and the JSP's contemporary leaders, Doi now came to believe that a policy of pacifism and unarmed neutrality based on Article 9 of the Japanese constitution was not only desirable but also necessary and feasible. While campaigning for the JSP chair in the summer of 1986, she pledged to stand by that very belief and commitment cultivated in her student days.

Pragmatist Doi was, however, willing to try to change the status quo gradually over a fairly long period of time rather than all at once. The JSP under her leadership continued to brand both the Self-Defense Forces and the United States-Japan Mutual Security Treaty as unconstitutional, but it now agreed that, pending amendments of relevant existing domestic laws and international agreements, both would have to be allowed to remain for the time being much as they were. On other, and more ideological, issues the party had begun substantially to soften its position even before Doi took over its leadership in 1986. In its "New Manifesto" issued in 1986, shortly before Doi's election as the new chairperson, the party had already abandoned its claim to be a "class party," renounced revolution as a means to build a socialist society, and accepted the virtues of the market economy.

The JSP's increasingly pragmatic and flexible posture that substantially accelerated under Doi's leadership earned the party handsome electoral dividends. In the 1989 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, the JSP's share of the 128 seats increased from 12 to 36 and the LDP's decreased from 63 to 41; in the 1989 upper house election, the JSP's share of the 252 seats rose from 42 to 66, while the LDP's fell from 142 to 109; and in the 1990 lower house general election, the LDP's share of the 512 seats slipped from 295 to 286, while the JSP's climbed from 83 to 140. These results were due to a number of factors, especially the newly-introduced and highly unpopular LDP's consumption (sales) tax, the equally unpopular liberalization of agricultural imports, and the Recruit stock-for-political-favor scandal. There was no doubt, however, that the "citizens," and especially women, who "moved," as they had never moved before, in response to Doi's call played a decisive role. In each of the three elections mentioned above, more women ran as candidates than ever before since the 1940s, more of them won, and most of the winners ran on the JSP ticket.

"The day has arrived for the mountain to move," Doi declared in the wake of the 1989 upper house election, reciting the opening line of the inimitable verse by her idol and one of the greatest poets of 20th-century Japan, Yosano Akiko, from the first issue (1911) of the nation's first feminist magazine, Blue Stocking (Seito). For the benefit of her less literate listeners, she might have recited the rest of Yosano's simple but powerful verse: "But people don't believe what I have said/The mountain has only slept for a while/In old times, all mountains moved on the flame of fire/But one doesn't have to believe it/People, do believe only this/That all the women who were asleep have now awakened and are on the move." Doi did not start the move by herself, but she gave it a powerful push. However, following her party's severe losses in local elections Doi resigned as chairperson on June 21, 1991. However, she returned to a seat in the Lower House, as she was re-elected in 1990. In the mid 1990s she was Speaker of the Lower House.


Further Reading on Doi Takako

For additional information on Doi and her role in Japanese politics see Hans H. Baerwald, "Japan's House of Councillors Election: A Mini-Revolution?" in Asian Survey (September 1989) and "Japan's 39th House of Representative Election: A Case of Mixed Signals," in Asian Survey (June 1990). See also Richard J. Samuels, "Japan in 1989," in Asian Survey (January 1990).