Japan has appointed its first female fighter pilot, the latest achievement in the national push for greater gender equality in the traditionally male-dominated country.
1st Lt. Misa Matsushima, 26, joined the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) after graduating from the National Defense Academy in 2014, becoming one of the 13,707 servicewomen who make up a mere 6.1% of all Japanese troops. She finished her training earlier this week, and was officially named a fighter pilot in a ceremony on Friday, said the JASDF in a press release.
“Ever since I saw the movie ‘Top Gun’ when I was in primary school, I have always admired fighter jet pilots,” Matsushima told reporters Thursday.
“As the first female (fighter) pilot, I will open the way. 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,” she added.
Matsushima, who is from the eastern city of Yokohama, got her pilot’s license in 2015, before advancing to fighter pilot training. She will now be stationed at the Nyutabaru Air Base, and begin flying F-15J fighter jets.
The F-15J is a twin-engine fighter designed for air-to-air combat with other jets, capable of carrying eight radar and infrared missiles. It can reach top speeds of Mach 2.5 – 2.5 times the speed of sound, or 1,918 mph.
“The first female fighter pilot aircraft of the Air Self Defense Force is born,” said the JASDF in a tweet Thursday.
The JASDF didn’t accept women until 1993, when most positions became open to female applicants. However, women were still not allowed to fly fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft until the ban was lifted in 2015, as part of a government initiative to increase the number of women in the workplace, according to the JASDF statement.
Across Japan, women have long been relegated to performing household duties and administrative roles, often referred to as the “mommy” track. However, facing an aging population and shrinking workforce, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged in 2013 to empower working women.
This new “womenomics” policy also reached the military; the Defense Ministry launched a series of initiatives last April aiming to increase the number of women in the Self Defense Forces to 9% by 2030.
By contrast, women make up 16% of the US enlisted forces, according to think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
However, with previously restricted positions in Japan’s Marine, Air, and Ground Self Defense Forces now open to women, new female leaders have started taking the reins. In March, Japan’s navy appointed the first female commander of a warship squadron, local media reported.
The military’s social media, too, regularly shows female personnel, with one post showing a “day of female shifts.”