As the editor of a string of successful fashion titles, Hiromi Sogo has spent three decades telling Japanese women what to wear. Her new task is to try to interest them in a drier topic: fiscal policy.
Sogo, the editor-in-chief of luxury magazines Vingt-Cinq Ans and Richesse, said she wondered whether there had been a mistake when she was contacted to take part in a Finance Ministry panel on how to rein in Japan’s ballooning national debt. She’s also one of six female speakers set to lecture on the topic at a seminar for women in April. Finance Minister Taro Aso will be the only male speaker at the event.
“To be honest, I was clueless about fiscal policy,” Sogo, 52, said in an interview at the publisher’s offices in Tokyo’s fashionable Omotesando district. “But it’s important to offer people a chance to find out about it. Women make up half the population and they need to think not only about the small unit of the household, but about what is happening in the country as a whole.”
Japan’s government debt is about 2.5 times the size of its economy and continues to grow. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to prioritize economic growth to bring in more tax revenue and improve the fiscal situation has met with mixed success. Debate drags on about whether to push ahead with a sales-tax increase next year to cover some of the growing social security costs incurred by the rapidly aging population.
After previous seminars on government spending attracted an almost exclusively male audience, the Finance Ministry is organizing its first women-only lecture in 10 years. A pamphlet prepared for the event urges women to attend to find out answers to questions like: “How much debt does Japan have?” and “How does fiscal policy affect our daily lives?”
The move comes as Abe urges women to take a more active part in society and seeks to attract more of them into the labor force to make up for the shrinking working-age population. Female economists and academics including Mana Nakazora of BNP Paribas Securities will take to the podium alongside Sogo at a Tokyo theater to explain the nation’s finances.
“I want ordinary women to take more of an interest,” Sogo said, explaining that she had treated fiscal panel sessions as an opportunity to learn. Aware that her magazines target a privileged minority of women, she took a copy of Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book on inequality, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” as reading matter on a trip to the Paris collections.
“Women tend to look at the reality of a situation and tackle it little by little,” she said. “It’s important to have that mindset reflected in society at large, just like we take care of the household budget.”
Breaking into a male-dominated field is nothing new for the unassuming Sogo, clad in an embroidered brown dress and high heels for the interview. Her appointment as editor of a girls’ teen fashion publication in 1995 was seen as a radical move because the top jobs — even in womenswear — had always been reserved for men.
It was only when Sogo saw for herself the front row seats at the Paris collections packed with celebrity female editors that she realized how odd Japan’s fashion publishing industry was. As she worked her way up, serving a stint as head of the Japanese edition of Vogue magazine, the industry changed, with female editors now heading most women’s publications, she said.
While she has no children — something she attributes to her fascination with her work — Sogo said many of the staff she manages balance their careers with raising one or two offspring. That has made her conscious of the child care systems they rely on and the need to budget for them.
Sogo is also acutely aware of the financial burden Japan has in store for the next generation, she added.
“Not having my own children has, if anything, made me more concerned about the children of the future,” she said. “If you see them as the treasure of the nation, isn’t it deeply wrong for the adults of today to do nothing and leave it all to them?”