U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and her Japanese counterpart Akie Abe announced plans Thursday to deepen cooperation in helping girls in developing nations finish their educations, vowing to help them attain goals that many in wealthy countries take for granted.
Mrs. Obama, who in her online travel journal described her trip as a "part of a journey that began decades ago, back when I was a little girl," is visiting Japan and Cambodia, who are among Asia's richest and poorest nations.
"Like so many women I was able to achieve both my professional and personal goals because of my education," Mrs. Obama said. "My education is the starting point for every opportunity in my life."
She described the fact that at least 62 million girls are unable to attend school as a "profound waste of human potential."
As a major aid donor, Japan plans to cooperate with the community-based "Let Girls Learn" initiative recently announced by President Barack Obama and his wife. On Thursday it announced plans to devote 42 billion yen ($340 million) over three years to supporting girls' empowerment and gender sensitive education.
Japan and the U.S. also agreed to focus more development assistance on supporting girls' education. The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers will also cooperate with the Peace Corps, which is implementing the Let Girls Learn program.
"To commute to school. To chat with a friend. To believe in your possibilities. These happy things that are taken for granted in our countries can never be attained by children in some developing countries," said Abe. "This is the harsh reality."
The program, led by the Peace Corps and other aid organizations, is meant to help girls who are unable to attend school back into classes. It is being rolled out initially in 11 countries — Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda.
Hundreds of new, grassroots projects meant to facilitate girls' education are planned.
The first lady, trained as a lawyer, and Abe, daughter of a confectionary magnate, have made furthering the cause of children and women among their priorities. Abe is soft spoken but has openly disagreed with her husband, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on some issues, while actively backing his efforts to promote greater gender equality in government and business.
Mrs. Obama and Abe met with Japanese university students. The U.S. first lady will also pay a call on Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko and meet with the prime minister. On Friday she will visit the ancient capital, Kyoto, before traveling to Cambodia.
The "Let Girls Learn" program is global, but White House officials say it also reflects a U.S. commitment to be more involved in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mrs. Obama's stop in Japan is seen here as a "makeup" call after she did not accompany her husband during his state visit to Tokyo last year. Abe is soon due to make a reciprocal visit to the U.S.
YouTube celebrity Michelle Phan joined Mrs. Obama in Tokyo to help spread awareness for the Let Girls Learn campaign and field questions to the first lady submitted through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.