TOKYO—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has said he wants to create a nation where women shine, named a cabinet Tuesday with just one woman.
Since taking office in December 2012, Mr. Abe has had as many as five women in his cabinet, which generally numbers 19 or 20 including the prime minister. The only woman in the new 20-person cabinet is Satsuki Katayama, 59, whose responsibilities include promoting gender equality.
“In Japan, a society in which women are empowered has just started,” Mr. Abe said at a news conference when asked about the low number. “I believe we are nurturing more and more women who can enter the cabinet.”
He said Ms. Katayama, a former Ministry of Finance official, “not only is a policy expert but also is quick on her feet and possesses superhuman guts. Carrying as she does the presence of two or three people, she will, I expect, lift high the flag of women’s empowerment.”
Women remain a rare presence at the top ranks of Japanese politics and business, although Mr. Abe has frequently said women’s advancement is critical to economic growth.
Mieko Nakabayashi, a professor at Waseda University and former member of Parliament, said Mr. Abe sought to pack his cabinet with veteran loyalists as he enters his final years in office following re-election in September as ruling-party leader.
“There weren’t too many women left” fitting that description, said Ms. Nakabayashi. Mr. Abe “is very cautious about ideology and whether they are loyal.”
Ms. Katayama is a conservative who supports Mr. Abe’s desire to revise the nation’s constitution and make clear the legality of the nation’s military.
Aside from Ms. Katayama, those entering the cabinet for the first time were mostly men in their 60s who were recommended by bosses of pro-Abe ruling-party factions, themselves all male.
Both women in Mr. Abe’s previous cabinet lost their jobs in the reshuffle. One, Seiko Noda, who had been minister of internal affairs and communications, said Mr. Abe’s pledges to promote women had helped the ruling Liberal Democratic Party return to power six years ago. “The number of [female] ministers keeps falling, so I am very worried,” she said.
The pool of women candidates is small. In the lower house of Parliament, only 10% of lawmakers are female, putting Japan in 161st place among 193 nations, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In the U.S., about 20% of the members of Congress are women.
“If they just want to increase the number of female ministers, the government could recruit someone from the private sector. But if they want to promote more women from within, they may have to have a sponsor system” to prepare women lawmakers for cabinet posts, said Akiko Kojima of the Japan Research Institute, a think tank that is part of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc.