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Japanese alum wins first international achievement award

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
(217) 333-5491;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nobuko Matsubara has been named the first recipient of the University of Illinois’ Madhuri and Jagdish N. Sheth International Alumni Award for Exceptional Achievement.

Matsubara, the president of the Japan Association for Employment of Persons With Disabilities, will be honored Sept. 12 at a campus banquet.

The award recognizes alumni who were citizens of another country at the time of their enrollment at the UI, and who have achieved international or national prominence in business, government, academia and other fields.

Earl Kellogg, UI associate provost for international affairs, said it has been widely known that many of the university’s international alumni, after receiving their degrees, have gone on to make outstanding personal and professional contributions as political leaders, renowned scientists and scholars, humanitarian activists, artists and leaders in business and finance. "However, until now," Kellogg said, "the university did not have a mechanism for formally recognizing their achievements."

Matsubara, a graduate of the UI Institute of Industrial and Labor Relations, was one of several alumni considered for the inaugural award. The final selection was made by former UI Chancellor Michael Aiken and based on recommendations from a campus committee.

Matsubara graduated from Tokyo University in 1964 and that same year became a civil servant in the Ministry of Labor in Japan. A few years later, she took advantage of an opportunity to study at the UI, where she earned a master’s degree in labor and industrial science in 1969.

Returning to the Ministry of Labor, she gradually rose through the ranks to become director-general of the Women’s Bureau in the Ministry. There, she was a champion of women’s rights and was instrumental in drafting the 1986 Equal Opportunity Law, which greatly expanded employment opportunities for Japanese women.

In 1995, Matsubara was named director-general of the Labor Standards Bureau within the Ministry, where she promoted shorter work hours and oversaw matters related to compensation for workplace accidents. Her next promotion within the Ministry, in 1996, was to the position of director-general of the Labor Relations Bureau.

In 1997, she was promoted to the prestigious post of administrative vice minister of labor. With the 2000 merger of the Health and Labor ministries, Matsubara assumed her current position.

Considered a pioneer for her efforts to promote the advancement of women in her country, Matsubara also has been applauded for her own ability to shatter the glass ceiling that had long been in place in the realm of government and civil service.

"Ms. Matsubara made international headlines when she became the first woman to hold the top civil service post in Japan’s male-dominated national government as administrative vice minister of labor," ILIR development director Alice Vernon wrote in her nominating letter. "While a few women have served as ministers in Japanese cabinets and some have been appointed parliamentary vice ministers, none had reached the top rung of Japan’s elite civil service until Matsubara’s appointment."