JDF JapanDefenseFocus No.56

Women Making a Difference at the MOD
-Interview with a SDF Female Officer-

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Visits Japan

Lieutenant Colonel Chizu Kurita is a female officer currently working at GSDF Ground Research and Development Command. Prior to that, she was in charge of defense exchanges at Defense and International Policy Planning Division, Joint Staff Office. She had been a commander of the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Company as the first female personnel and served as a commander of SDF female unit at the Troop Review in 2010. In 2011, she was dispatched to the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) for six months as a first case of a female officer sent to a PKO mission individually.

Q Tell us why you joined the service.

A.When I learned about the SDF in high school, their job just clicked. It was a natural choice for me.

Q What was your main activity at UNMIT?

A.I was a military liaison officer responsible for collecting information from the locals and reporting on security, social infrastructure, sanitation, and so forth. Although there were prepared questions, I learned that how the interview goes depends on the interviewers and the interview technique. That is why I always paid attention to be polite to the interviewees.

Q Do you think being a female officer worked positively?

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Visits Japan

A.I always wanted to add some female perspectives to my work. For example, I felt that local women found it easier to talk to me rather than to male officers, so I often added their comments to my reports. I think there were comments that only female interviewers can draw from the interviewees. Moreover, I believe showing them the working women like me would contribute to empowering local women.

Q Is there any experience at UNMIT that changed you?

A.I think I came to see things from a broader perspective. Since it was an individual dispatch, I was the only Japanese person in the team. Thus, I always paid my attention to how my behavior would be perceived as Japanese SDF personnel. I felt the trust in the SDF activities and expectations for Japan among locals as well as my colleagues from other countries at UN.

Q Is there any lesson learned from your experience at UNMIT?

A.It is that you do not necessarily have to be fluent in a certain language to communicate with the locals. The most important things are your heart and passion. Instead of using English, a second language both for me and the locals, I used gestures and even Japanese. If you sincerely try to communicate with them, they would still understand even when speaking different languages.

Q Any fond memory in UNMIT?

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Visits Japan

A.Children in Timor-Leste were very friendly. They always ran toward and gathered around the UN vehicles. Before I was dispatched, I found out that my name “Kurita” means an octopus in Tetum language. Local children soon remembered me and loved calling me “Kurita!”

On my day off, I sometimes visited an orphanage for girls and taught them English or sang songs together. One of the girls, Anita, called me on the phone even though we did not speak the same language. It may sound weird but we understood each other, and it really gave me a warm feeling.

Q Tell us about your work at the Joint Staff Office.

A.I was in charge of defense exchanges with Southeast Asian countries for about two and a half years. My assignment included arranging various consultations both at high-level and working-level, accompanying senior officials on their business trips, transcribing records of the meetings, and so forth. I also arranged lunch or dinner venues and prepared cultural programs for visitors. In my office, I was sometimes called “Asian Kurita” by my colleagues. Well, it sounds like a stage name for a comedian, but I took this name as a compliment since I was totally involved in my work with the Southeast Asian countries.

Q I remember you accompanied Chief of Joint Staff to Myanmar this May. What do you think of it?

A.It was the first high-level military exchange with Myanmar. It was the event only Chief Joint Staff could realize, not a civilian. I was honored to be involved in such a historic moment.


Q Do you think being female SDF personnel has any implications at your work?

A.In Myanmar, the President unexpectedly talked to me and asked my rank. Since Myanmar has recently started recruiting female officers, I assume the President might have been interested when he met a female officer from Japan. Also at the Shangri-La Dialogue which Chief of Joint Staff attended after his visit to Myanmar, some of the senior officers from other countries remembered that I had been in the same dialogue last year. I believe meeting with a SDF female officer makes an impression on them. In that sense, I think it is one of my advantages.

Q What is your future goal?

A.Although I am currently working as a working-level staff, I would love to be seated at the main table and make comments during the conference in the future.

Also, I would like to raise awareness of gender equality in the MOD/SDF. I believe that having women working at a certain level in the organization represents the advanced state of the society. Under the leadership of Abe administration, Japan has started making effort toward greater participation of women in the society. In retrospect, I do not think I have paved the pathless way for my position as a woman working in the service. I have never been treated unfairly because of my gender. Although people sometimes say I am kind of a pioneer female officer in the SDF, I actually do not feel that way. I believe my passion to every single assignment I have had, warm supports from colleagues, and efforts of my predecessors altogether helped make a path to where I am now. You do not have to be a “man” to be successful in the SDF. Rather, this is where you can make use of the women’s perspective. I hope this aspect will be one of the SDF’s strengths in the future.

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