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Japan is all abuzz about the arrival of a Trump: Ivanka Trump

TOKYO — Trump is set to deliver a much-anticipated speech in Tokyo that the Japanese government hopes will make waves. But it's not Donald Trump, who's arriving here on Sunday; it's Ivanka.

The First Daughter and adviser to the president will address the Japanese government's "World Assembly of Women" conference on Friday, a double whammy win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

First, he gets a high profile speaker for one of his key initiatives - and one that has failed to bear any other fruit: Increasing women's participation in the Japanese workforce, or, in Japanese government parlance, an initiative letting women "shine."

Second, Abe can curry more favor with Donald Trump just two days before he arrives in Tokyo on his first trip to Japan as president. That visit will include a round of golf at a fancy country club and a banquet, but no headline speech. That job will fall instead to his daughter.

Ivanka Trump will give a "special speech" on female entrepreneurship and women's participation in the economy, similar to those she made during a women's forum hosted by Angela Merkel in Germany earlier this year.

The Japanese government added a day to what's usually a two-day conference, scheduling her speech on a public holiday because she couldn't make it earlier. But Abe, who is expected to introduce her to the audience, wanted them to hear from Trump, described by one of the prime minister's top aides this week as "one of the most remarkable people in the world because she is actively trying to support women entrepreneurs and improve women's participation in society."

She will have dinner with Abe and his wife Friday night, leaving Japan before her father arrives.

Japan has something of a fascination with Ivanka Trump, who is viewed here by some as the perfect woman: She has a career and a beautiful family and blonde hair and she always looks immaculate. It's the kind of ideal that usually comes only in a Barbie box.

"Many people think she's like a princess," said Lully Miura, a political scientist at the University of Tokyo. "She's well educated, beautiful, sophisticated and rich. And it's very surprising to Japanese women that she can also talk about things that are important to society."

At least four television channels broadcast a live shot of an empty escalator on Thursday afternoon, awaiting her arrival at the airport, interspersed with her tweets and Instagram photos.

TV commentators noted approvingly that she says she spends 20 minutes every morning meditating and only eight minutes putting on her make-up - balancing her luxury celebrity lifestyle with being a mom of three kids. At least one channel had a cardboard cut-out Ivanka on set.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police have reportedly formed a women-only riot police unit to protect Trump during her visit, although they will be dressed in suits to blend in as they keep check on the Japanese women expected to show up to see the First Daughter.

Likewise, Japanese companies that import her clothing label say they've enjoyed a surge in sales.

"Inquires and orders for the brand increased dramatically from January and, during the busiest period, more than 10 customers contacted us each day because they heard about Ivanka," said Tamana Kawanishi, manager of Chez Ibiza, an clothing shop in Tokyo, "We received zero inquires before the election."

An online store, Waja, was selling about six Ivanka Trump brand items of clothing a month before her father was elected president. This year, they've averaged about 600 a month.

"I think people who saw the news about Ivanka's visit to Japan are checking our website and buying," said Yukie Suzuki, a Waja spokeswoman.

While the 36-year-old's arrival in Japan has generated the kind of coverage usually reserved for celebrities, Ivanka Trump and her message at the prime minister's conference do little to advance the cause of the average Japanese woman, analysts say.

"I've long been cynical about his efforts to promote women," said Chelsea Szendi Schieder, an expert on gender in Japan who teaches at Meiji University in Tokyo. Abe's initiative, dubbed "womenomics," seems like a branding effort that promotes a few elite women rather than a serious effort to reduce the wage gap or poverty experienced by single mothers, she said.

"Ivanka is also a brand," Schieder said.

Since he returned to power at the end of 2012, Abe has championed increasing women's participation in the workforce as a way to pull Japan out of its decades of economic malaise.

But his efforts have resulted in little tangible progress.

Underlining this, Japan has slipped further in the World Economic Forum's global gender equality rankings. Japan now comes in 114th place out of 144 countries when it comes to gender equality, making it by far the worst in the G7. Japan stood at 101 in 2012, the year Abe returned to office.

The decline in women's "political empowerment," largely due to a decline in the number of women in parliament and in senior political positions, drove this year's deterioration, according to the report, published Thursday.

Only two of the 24 ministers in Abe's Cabinet and less than 10 percent of members of parliament are women - a far cry from Abe's goal of having women occupy at least 30 percent of senior management positions.

While more women are working, they are over-represented in part-time or casual jobs that do not come with the security or benefits of regular jobs. Seventy percent of part-time workers are women, according to the latest statistics from the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training.

Furthermore, there is strong pressure on women to quit their jobs once they have babies, a phenomenon so prevalent that it has its own name: "Mata-hara," short for "maternity harassment." Almost half of working women quit their jobs after having a baby, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

Much of the problem stems from an inflexible work culture that demands long hours at the office and mandatory attendance at after-work social events with the boss.

The two most high-profile cases of "death by overwork" in Japan have both involved young women, one an advertising agency worker who killed herself and the other a TV reporter who had a heart attack at 31.

But it is also due to a tax structure that provides no incentive for both people in a marriage to work and a lack of childcare facilities.

But Miura of the University of Tokyo commended the right-leaning Abe's efforts to at least try to change the entrenched gender imbalances in Japanese society.

"A conservative country like Japan won't change without conservative leadership," she said. "The Abe administration is going in the right direction but they need to help the ordinary Japanese woman, rather than just promoting these successful elites."

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