Public attitudes in Japan are arguably going backward, however. A poll conducted by the Japanese government last December shows that 51 percent of respondents think women should be stay-at-home mothers. That figure is up 10 percent since 2009 -- with the increase most notable among people in their 20s. Kathy Matsui, chief Japan equity strategist at Goldman Sachs and longtime proponent of "womenomics," has said that encouraging the participation of women in the workforce should be a national priority. "It should be up there with solving the fiscal deficit. It should be up there with how to improve Japan's national competitiveness.… It's staring you in the face -- it's half the population."While the appointment of Kennedy would send an unfortunate message in terms of the acceptability of dynastic rule of democratic states, having a woman in the top spot in Tokyo's diplomatic corps would be a definite plus. I try to imagine a meeting between the new ambassador and Finance Minister Aso Taro -- and see in my mind's eye his struggling over which of his personae to put on display -- the faux-serious policy man, the swinging dandy, the arch grandee -- and I smile.
Though it sounds trite -- and potentially insulting to the women of the country -- having a Madame U.S. ambassador could indeed have a positive effect on expectations and attitudes. The United States government and Ms. Kennedy would have to be willing to jaw-jaw about their ambassador's book publishing, her astute marshalling of her political influence and her having had to shoulder the huge responsibility of managing the legacies her parents left her.
On a more human note, the appointment of a child of the most glittering of all the White Houses to the position of ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary for the world's most powerful nation would mean Crown Princess Masako would finally have someone in Tokyo of sufficient rank and status to talk to as a friend.