TOKYO - First lady Michelle Obama, saying it's an "injustice" that 62 million girls around the world are not in school, joined forces with her Japanese counterpart, Akie Abe, on Thursday, saying they would together promote education for girls in developing countries.
Meeting with young women from Japanese universities and high schools, Obama recounted her own journey from a working-class neighborhood in Chicago to Princeton, and encouraged them to pay attention to education at home and to dream big.
"I'm sitting here with my good friend in Japan [and] with all of you, and we have the opportunity to change the world," she said, sitting in a circle with the students and Abe - who wrote her master's thesis on education in Myanmar - and U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. "You can do that, too, and so can the 62 million girls out there who aren't getting their education."
Japanese women are among the best educated in the world but often struggle to work their way up the career ladder in a country that values long days at work and long nights of drinking with colleagues. The Abe administration has made increasing female participation in the workforce a key part of its plan to revive the Japanese economy.
Obama's solo trip - her first visit to Japan - was part of her effort to promote the "Let Girls Learn" initiative that she and President Obama announced this month.
The first lady was joined on the road by Michelle Phan, an entrepreneur and popular YouTube make-up artist who has a huge following in Asia and was chronicling the trip on social media.
"Who agrees it's time to help more girls around the world get the education they deserve?" Phan tweeted on the eve of the event, in a message that was retweeted and favorited hundreds of times.
To support the Let Girls Learn initiative, the president's 2016 budget request includes $250 million in new and reallocated funds and Japan, one of Asia's richest countries and the largest aid donor in the region, has pledged $340 million from 2015 for girls' empowerment and gender-sensitive education.