Learning to fly: ex-flight attendant aims high in Japan vote
An elderly woman hunched over a cane stares intently as Japanese political hopeful Asami Miwa greets locals in the rural voting district the former flight attendant is contesting in Sunday's election.
Waving her white-gloved hands and bowing to potential voters in drizzly Saitama, an hour north of Tokyo, the 30-year-old Party of Hope candidate is a welcome splash of colour in a sepia-tinged world dominated by men in grey suits.
"Japan talks a good game about women's role in society," Miwa told AFP as the leathery-faced pensioner wished her luck before shuffling away.
"But there are so few of us in politics -- only 10 percent of Japan's parliament is made up of women," she added before climbing into a campaign van decorated with a large poster of her with her party's founder, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.
"For a woman to even consider going into politics is still taboo in Japan."
Few people in Obukuro, a sleepy corner of Koshigaya city, famous for producing the ubiquitous red "daruma" dolls sold in Japanese gift shops, bat an eyelid as Miwa's little white van trundles past with loudspeakers blaring.
"Good morning," a male campaign aide -- or "crow" in the electioneering parlance -- calls out over a microphone as Miwa waves cheerfully, often at no one in particular.
"Representing Tokyo Governor Koike's Party of Hope, 30-year-old Asami Miwa, Asami Miwa. Please treat me nicely."
Miwa, who worked as a cabin attendant for budget airline Peach before a radical career change two years ago, jumps out to press the flesh with pedestrians she spots, bowing deeply and often as she hands out leaflets.
"I want to give women a voice," said the former part-time model, dressed in a plastic raincoat and sensible beige trousers.
"The reason women don't run for office is because Japanese society thinks we're supposed to get married and raise children. People accuse you of abandoning your family if you plump for politics."
Miwa, the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, added: "That's hardly conducive to a society in which women can be seen as equals."
- Seasoned campaigner -
Like a seasoned political campaigner, Miwa has a handy metaphor to describe how working in a pressurised cabin at 30,000 feet (9,000 metres) had prepared her for public service.
"Every time you board a flight you get a plane full of different passengers," said Miwa, who is hoping to help defeat Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition.
"But once you take off, you're sharing the same space -- you still have to serve them and guarantee their safety.
"Likewise in politics, you have to listen to all sorts of different opinions from voters and you have a duty to the people in your electoral district."
Miwa stressed that Japan should stand firm on the North Korean nuclear threat, which has cast a shadow over the election campaign.
"How Japan deals with the North Korean problem is a key concern," she said. "They could launch a missile at us at any time so we must be firm. We need to debate whether Abe's approach on sanctions goes far enough."
With Koike tipped to become Japan's first female prime minister in the future, Miwa insisted it was time to change Japan's political landscape.
"The reason I joined the Party of Hope is because I believe it's time for a female leader," she said.
"The Lib-Dems have had power for too long -- it can't carry on. People need options, they need hope."