When Mitsuko Tottori was appointed the new boss of Japan Airlines in January, it sent shockwaves through the country's corporate sector. Not only was Tottori the airline's first female boss, but she had started her career as a cabin crew member.

Tottori was not part of the elite group of businessmen usually appointed to the top jobs. Seven of the last 10 men to hold the post were educated at the country's top universities. Tottori graduated from a much less prestigious women-only college. 

"I did not expect to receive so much attention"

"I don't see myself as the first woman or the first former flight attendant. I want to act as an individual, so I didn't expect to receive so much attention, but I am also aware that the public or our employees don't see me that way," Tottori said. 

His appointment comes just two weeks after JAL's flight attendants successfully evacuated passengers from a plane that collided with a coast guard plane while landing.

Japan Airlines Flight 516 burst into flames after colliding on the runway at Tokyo's Haneda airport.

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Five of the six crew on board the coast guard plane were killed and the captain injured. But all 379 people on board the Airbus A350-900 a few minutes after the collision had safely escaped. The airline's rigorous training of flight attendants suddenly became a hot topic.

While his appointment to JAL's top job was a surprise, JAL has changed rapidly since it went bankrupt in 2010 in the country's biggest corporate bankruptcy outside the financial sector. The airline has managed to keep flying thanks to massive state-backed financial support and the business has undergone extensive restructuring with a new board and management.

"It's not just about the mindset of company leaders, but it's also important for women to have the confidence to become managers. I hope my appointment will encourage other women to try things they were afraid to try before."