Mr. Abe is widely seen as having fallen short on his promises to advance women in society. In the World Economic Forum’s annual analysis of gender gaps, Japan, which has the world’s third-largest economy, ranks 120th out of 156 countries.
Women still struggle to gain traction in Japanese politics, particularly at the national level. Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, founded a party in 2017 in an attempt to disrupt a national election that year, but Mr. Abe led the Liberal Democrats to victory, while Ms. Koike’s party drew only lukewarm support.
Another woman in the Liberal Democrats’ leadership race, Seiko Noda, 61, has explicitly promoted gender equality, as well as rights for older people and those with disabilities. But she barely secured enough signatures from party lawmakers to qualify as a candidate.
The Liberal Democrats’ far-right wing has held sway for a decade, and analysts said women in particular had to tack right to rise in the party. “In order to compensate for this disadvantage of being a woman, you have to show over-loyalty to the conservatives,” said Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “And that means you have to be hawkish and anti-feminist.”
Gender aside, Ms. Takaichi is an unusual leadership candidate because she does not come from a prominent political family. The top contenders, Taro Kono, 58, and Fumio Kishida, 64, are both sons and grandsons of members of Parliament. Mr. Abe’s grandfather was also a prime minister.
Ms. Takaichi’s mother was a police officer in Nara, and her father worked for a car company affiliated with Toyota. In a memoir, Ms. Takaichi wrote that she had been admitted to two prominent private universities, Waseda and Keio, but that her parents wanted to save the tuition money for her younger brother.
Instead, she attended Kobe University, a state school, where she played drums in a band and drove a motorcycle. After graduation, she spent a year in the United States, interning with then-Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, a Democrat.