Voters in Otsu, Shiga elected Japan’s youngest-ever female mayor last week. Congratulations go out to Ms. Naomi Koshi, who is only 36, almost half the age of the outgoing mayor, Mr. Makoto Mekata, 70. Mr. Mekata held the post for two terms supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito. Ms. Koshi ran as an independent supported by the Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party.
The previous record holder for youngest female mayor was Ms. Kazumi Imamura, who won the race in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture in 2010 at the age of 38. At this rate, a female mayors may be elected in their 20s soon enough!
Shiga’s election feels like a changing of the guard that may herald a broader shift in Japanese politics. The governor of Shiga Prefecture, Ms. Yukiko Kada, also a woman, will help establish a synergy in both the city and the prefecture that may indeed be enough to effect real change.
All of this might not make headlines in most countries, but Japan has one of the lowest percentages of female political and business leaders in the world. Just 11 percent of Lower House representatives and only ten percent of managerial positions in business. In 2011, the United Nations annual Global Gender Gap Index placed Japan 98th out of 135 countries, the lowest rate of participation by women in positions of power of any developed country.
Ms. Koshi was not elected simply because she was a young woman, however. She has a degree from Harvard Law School and practiced law from 2002 to 2011 for a Tokyo-based law firm and has worked in New York. Unlike most of the last generation of politicians, she speaks fluent English and has a Facebook page, complete with photos, blog entries, and sketches from admirers. Her youthful, international and energized qualities are refreshing.
The question remains, though, will she be able to change things for the better? She ran on a platform to expand tourism and investment and has also spoken about women needing a better system of daycare and elderly support that would allow women to maintain both family and career. From now on, she will be judged not by her age or gender, but by what she can accomplish.
Is this the start of a revolution? One can only hope so. But for now, let her get to work making changes.