TOKYO - Japan's Shinzo Abe on Friday named the country's first ever female aide to the prime minister, just weeks after Caroline Kennedy arrived as the first woman US ambassador to Tokyo.
Makiko Yamada, a 53-year-old internal ministry veteran, will advise the conservative prime minister on policies affecting women, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
"The government regards promotion of women in society as one of the key pillars for our growth policies," Suga told a regular briefing.
"The prime minister has been thinking about naming a woman as a prime ministerial aide. Now that Ambassador Kennedy has arrived, it seems things have come together," he said.
The appointment of Yamada, who will join six male prime ministerial aides, comes long after economists around the world began repeatedly urging Japan to make better use of its pool of female talent to spur growth and slow the rapid shrinking of the workforce.
Despite high levels of education, many women in Japan leave their jobs when they have children, and social pressures to play the homemaker remain strong.
Abe's 19-member cabinet has only two women: state ministers in charge of reform and women's affairs.
But with a rapidly-greying population and no significant immigration to speak of, greater female participation in the workforce has become a more pressing issue.
Many young people, who have come of age in a time of slow economic growth, are delaying marriage and child rearing because of their economic predicament.
As a result, the ballooning cost for welfare coupled with decreasing tax revenue have seriously pressured Japan's fiscal health, already the worst in the industrialised world.
Abe has pledged to expand business opportunities for women and pressed Japan Inc. to hire more females in executive positions.