About the Author: Nini Forino serves as Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Just recently, Secretary Clinton stopped in Tokyo on her maiden journey as Secretary of State, and I was honored to take part in the planning of her visit. I was there at the town hall meeting with University of Tokyo students, where she told a student that the best advice she could give young women is to “be true to yourself” and to “do what you believe is important and meaningful in your own life.” Three weeks later, I found myself in the company of distinguished Japanese women from different backgrounds who seemed to have taken the Secretary’s advice, living meaningful lives, doing what they believe in.
I met these women at a reception I organized to celebrate International Women’s Day. We invited a select group of Japanese women, many of whom were alumni of the International Visitors Leadership Program, a State Department exchange program. Japanese professional women often find few opportunities to network with other women, and this reception offered them a casual venue not only to share ideas, but also to reconnect with fellow alumni and with the Embassy.
Hosted by the Chargé d'Affaires, Jim Zumwalt, and his wife and fellow Foreign Service Officer, Ann Kambara, the evening was marked with great conversation, good food and new friendships. The highlight was the awarding of the Woman of Courage Certificate to our Embassy nominee, Ms. Nami Takenaka. Instituted in 2007, the Woman of Courage Award is the only Department of State award that pays tribute to emerging women leaders worldwide who courageously champion equal rights in their communities. Ms. Takenaka is a single mother of a physically and mentally disabled child. Against all odds, she not only improved the life of her daughter, but also touched the lives of thousands other physically challenged individuals, through her volunteer work and activism.
To top off what has been a whirlwind of exciting activity this past month, I was invited to speak at a panel of working moms at my 7-year-old daughter’s junior school assembly, also to celebrate International Women’s Day. In response to a question about work-family life balance, I recalled what Secretary Clinton had said at the town hall meeting. She said that one of the pleasures she had in her life was raising her daughter and working at the same time, and that she was fortunate to have been able to do that because she had a supportive spouse. Standing in front of the roomful of young girls, with my daughter and husband watching proudly, I couldn’t help but feel the same way.