Rui Matsukawa (MSFS’97) takes background in diplomacy to Japanese House of Councillors

March 21, 2017 by Margaux Fontaine

Rui Matsukawa (MSFS’97) was elected to the Japanese House of Councillors in 2016. A Liberal Democrat Party member, she represents the Osaka prefecture in the upper house of the National Diet of Japan.

Matsukawa’s interest in pursuing a career in diplomacy and public service was sparked by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a seismic shift of the international stage. At the time, Matsukawa was in her first year at Tokyo University.

“The fact that the Cold War suddenly ended inspired me very much and made me decide to engage in international politics,” Matsukawa explains.

Deciding between a career as a scholar of international politics or a diplomat, she chose the latter ultimately due to her desire to work for Japan’s national interest. She joined the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993 as First Secretary of the Delegation of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. A few years later, she decided to continue her study of international affairs at Georgetown’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

“What I studied and experienced at MSFS has significantly shaped my perspective of world politics,” she says.

Matsukawa chose the MSFS program due to its well-renowned status, global reach, and its networking opportunities with practitioners and future diplomats. These connections have proved beneficial throughout her career as a diplomat.

“Many world politicians visited the campus for meetings, discussions, and lectures, which was possible because Georgetown University is located in Washington, D.C. and is a very well-known school,” she reflects. “I felt very lucky to be a student here.”

Matsukawa notes that she still keeps in contact with professors she met while at Georgetown, who remain important mentors. Professor Victor Cha, director of the Asian Studies program, had a particular impact on her.

“Dr. Victor Cha impacted me a lot in terms of improving my analytical skills as well as my strategic thinking, especially in East Asian security and history,” she says. “Most importantly he gave me a lot of confidence in my own ability.”

Matsukawa later went on to serve as the first-ever Director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a division newly established under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2014.

“The Japanese government under Prime Minister Abe put a lot of emphasis on women’s empowerment in the world as well as in Japan – creating ‘a society where women shine’ is his slogan,” she explains.

In this role, Matsukawa was responsible for enhancing the Japanese government’s efforts towards empowering women throughout the world, working with international organizations such as UN Women.

“My goal was to improve women’s situation in the world and make positive change to Japanese society where [the] potential of Japanese women needs to be unleashed,” she explains.

She was also in charge of organizing WAW! (World Assembly for Women), an international conference focused on women’s empowerment that has been held annually in Tokyo since 2014.

Following her work in foreign affairs, Matsukawa decided to run for office in order to contribute her international expertise as a policymaker.

“I thought Japanese politics needed to have a sense of real diplomacy, and I could contribute to that with my years of experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” she says.

Aside from that, her motivation was also reflective of her time spent in the Gender Mainstreaming Division – this time, it was Matsukawa herself who became empowered.

“I really wanted to see more women (especially those who raise children) represented at the Diet,” says Matsukawa, the mother of two girls. “Still, only 11 percent of Japanese Diet members are women, and often women are expected to choose either their career or having a family.”

As a member of the House of Councillors, she hopes to help continuously work to make Japan a better place.

“My priority is to protect Japan’s security and territorial integrity in the difficult security environment that we see Asia in today,” she explains. “Creating a better environment for Japanese women to unleash their potential is also very important.”

She offers some advice to students interested in pursuing a career in foreign service or holding public office, noting that it’s most important to have confidence in yourself.

“Do not hesitate to challenge the status quo and defend what you think is important,” she says. “Study history and meet good people. It will be your asset.”