Maki Horikita – Role Model for Modern Japanese Women?
Japan’s hardest working actress, Maki Horikita, is taking her career to new heights in her latest TV drama. The 24-year-old, who has had a busy year on stage, in movies, TV series and multiple commercials, is currently playing the lead in Fuji TV’s new drama “Miss Pilot,” airing in prime time at 9pm every Tuesday.
The show depicts Haru Tezuka, a young woman who works at her parents bar in Kamata, Tokyo, as she applies and then goes through training to become a pilot at ANA (All Nippon Airways). At first confronted with elite students who have dreamed of becoming pilots all their lives, she passes the first exam by the skin of her teeth and begins training for a career in a male-dominated world.
BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with Horikita at Fuji’s TV studios to discuss her recent high-profile roles as professional working women in a society which ranks 106 out of 136 in gender equality, according to the United Nations.
“When I was first introduced to this story, I found out that not many pilots start out with a desire to become one,” explains Horikita, who is renowned for researching her characters carefully. “When you hear of a female pilot, you might imagine her to be somewhat masculine and strong, but that’s not always the case. There are female pilots that are feminine. The role I play is someone like that.”
In real life at ANA, only around 20 of their 2,500 pilots are female, despite there being no obstacles for women to pursue the career. It’s a stark statistic that shows that even in modern Japan, women have a long way to go to reach parity with their male counterparts. Horikita spoke to some of ANA’s pilots to establish what barriers women face.
“[One] female pilot mentioned to me how she didn’t experience any difficulty during training because of her gender,” says Horikita. “So I wish for this drama to become a starting point for more women to become pilots.” Given that her last show, “Ume-chan Sensei,” achieved ratings of 20.7% – the highest NHK has achieved in nine years – it’s fair to say the show may well have an impact on the number of women applying for the job. Not that Horikita worries about ratings. “Regardless of the viewing figures being high or low, I don’t change how much effort I put into it,” she says. “The important thing is that there are people watching.”
When it comes to examining the role of women in Japanese society, and their apparent reluctance to pursue managerial positions or professional careers in favor of letting the man be the main provider, Horikita is contemplative. “I think it’s good if there’s an environment where we can do what we wish to do regardless of our gender. I think even in Japan, the gender inequality isn’t as prominent as it used to be. For me personally, I have many opportunities to work with women. I feel that there are more women now than before with occupations that involve physical work, for example, camera and lighting,” she explains.
“I think the biggest problem lays in the mentality. Even when we all agree on something, if we have thoughts like, ‘you’re a woman,’ or ‘you’re a man’ it would be hard to feel comfortable,” Horikita adds.
Horikita belongs to a management agency that exclusively manages women, and is almost entirely staffed by women too. So when it comes to placing international standards of gender equality on Japan – such as its dire world ranking in the equality stakes and the fact that less than 1% of pilots are women – Horikita sees things from a different perspective. “I’m not sure if just numbers can correctly measure equality,” she says. “There are apparent differences between men and women, and I think it would be great if we can respect each other”.
Asked if she feels the two worlds of Japan, in which men and women lead largely separate lives – socially and in employment – could be down to the education system, she goes as far to say that the issue of gender equality is not a real concern for Japanese people. “I don’t feel that that’s a problem at all,” she states abruptly.
Horikita, who earlier this year was seen on stage with U.K. pop band One Direction, has repeatedly stated throughout her career that she is content working in Japan where her success continues apace, and harbors little international ambition. “I would like to, but I don’t really have a clear vision of my future jobs,” she says, alluding to the fact that being in high demand, her management call the shots on where she appears next.
Her next project is the film “With Mugiko” (translation title), directed by Keisuke Yoshida, which opens on December 21.
“It’s a story about a mother and a daughter,” explains Horikita, who will star alongside actor Ryuhei Matsuda, as the anime otaku lead character. “The mother leaves when the daughter was very young and she lives with her father and brother without much memory of her mother. When the daughter grows up, her mother shows up out of nowhere after her father dies, and she doesn’t know how to relate to her mother. She has trouble being herself around her and then the mother dies. The daughter goes back to her mother’s hometown to bury her ashes in a tomb and finds out what kind of woman her mother was.”
If Mugiko is anything like Horikita, she’ll end up an exemplary role model for modern women no matter what.