Visible Women

This 26-year-old just became Japan’s first ever female fighter pilot

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Moya Crockett
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She says she hopes to be treated the same as her male colleagues – but wants to inspire other women to pursue their dreams. 

In male-dominated Japan, many careers have traditionally been closed off to women. One field where this is particularly noticeable is in the military, where women make up just 6.1% of all Japanese troops. No women were allowed to join the air force in any capacity until 1993, and it was only three years ago that Japan lifted its ban on female fighter pilots.

Now, 26-year-old Misa Matsushima has become the first ever woman to fly a fighter jet in Japanese history.

At a press conference on Thursday, first lieutenant Matsushima told reporters that her dreams of being a fighter pilot had been sparked by watching a classic Tom Cruise film as a child.

“Ever since I saw the movie Top Gun when I was in primary school, I have always admired fighter jet pilots,” she said, according to CNN.

Matsushima joined the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) after she graduated from the National Defence Academy in 2014. She has now finished her training, and was officially named a fighter pilot in a ceremony in Miyazaki Prefecture on Friday (24 August). 

Misa Matsushima poses beside a fighter jet on 23 August, 2018

Japan lifted its ban on women flying fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft in 2015, as part of the government’s drive to increase the number of women in the workplace. As the country struggled with a labour shortage, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made “womenomics” – an strategy for getting more Japanese women into work, devised by financial strategist Kathy Matsui – a key pillar of his economic policy.

As part of “womenomics”, Abe’s cabinet has introduced measures to expand childcare and introduced legislation requiring large companies to set targets for increasing women in management positions. The Prime Minister has touted his efforts as a success, pointing to the fact that the female employment rate in Japan has risen significantly over the last five years.

However, this doesn’t mean that Japan is now a paradise of gender equality. In fact, Japan fell three places in last year’s Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). It is now ranked 114th out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality, with the WEF raising particular concerns about Japanese women’s political empowerment.

Just 9% of seats in the Japanese parliament’s lower house are held by women, and Japan ranks the worst among rich countries for female representation in politics.

But back to Miyazaki Prefecture, and Matsushima’s success in becoming a fighter pilot. She told reporters that she didn’t want to be treated any differently from her male colleagues, and that she hoped other women would be motivated by her story.

“As the first female [fighter] pilot, I will open the way,” she said. “I would like work hard to meet people’s expectations and show my gratitude to people who have been supporting me. I want to become a full-fledged pilot, no different from men, as soon as possible.

“I hope to be the one to inspire more people to become a pilot.”

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made history and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.  

Images: Getty Images 


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.