National / Politics

Tokyo's new governor says she's raring to push policy agenda forward

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Tokyo’s new governor, Yuriko Koike, says she’s ready to put her pledge for sweeping change into force right away.

Citing issues that she believes have been left unaddressed too long, Koike, elected in a landslide July 31, declared in an interview Monday with The Japan Times that she will prepare an action plan requiring an overhaul of the metropolitan administration system and its agenda.

Asked what steps she will take to address the day care shortage issue that has left thousands of children on waiting lists, she responded with a question: “How do you translate it into English?”

“It’s a problem specific to Japanese culture and I hope this term ‘taiki jido‘ (a term used to describe the problem of the growing number of children awaiting their spot) disappears from Japanese terminology,” she said. “For me, this term is nothing but a buzzword” and doesn’t properly explain the broader policy implications.

Unsatisfied with the current situation in which women are forced to decide whether to quit working and focus on child-rearing or give up on starting a family, Koike has said she will introduce a supplementary budget to tackle this problem.

The money will be used to support municipalities within Tokyo by, for instance, increasing staff at day care centers or help build new centers to respond to shortages in particular districts.

Koike believes this transformation should be accompanied by changing work lifestyles and family models.

Some of the measures she is planning will require a “scrap and build” strategy, she said.

One of her major goals is to reduce the financial burden on Tokyoites for hosting the 2020 Olympics.

“It is my role to explain and convince the taxpayers” of the benefits, including building the new national stadium to be used as the main venue, she said.

Koike recalled the construction of the first bullet-train line as part of the infrastructure improvements ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, which required funding from the World Bank.

“I need to be convinced myself,” she said.

She expressed a wish to improve transparency by clarifying the division of roles between Tokyo, which is responsible for investments in infrastructure that will remain in the city, and the organizing committee.

Koike also believes that decreasing the Olympics’ financial burden on the city’s residents is the key to making the event a success.

She will be visiting Rio de Janeiro to accept the Olympic flag during the closing ceremony. She said she will travel with an entourage of four officials engaged in preparations for the 2020 Games.

“I am not going to use first class or stay in suites” during business trips, she promised, referring to the overspending of public money that not only cost Tokyoites hundreds of millions of yen but also cost her predecessor, Yoichi Masuzoe, his post.

The trip to Rio is projected to cost ¥10 million in total.

She has also put other projects and practices introduced by the previous administration under scrutiny.

One of the plans Koike has announced she will scrap is leasing a property for a new Korean school in Shinjuku Ward.

The idea to turn the premises into a school for Korean students emerged from a meeting between Masuzoe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in July 2014. The plan was aimed at responding to the growing needs of Tokyo’s Korean community. The lone Korean school in the capital is operating at capacity and has a long waiting list.

“I have heard it is not true,” she said of the school’s claims and expressed concern that the decision was made without sufficient explanation to the residents who oppose the project.

Koike believes the Shinjuku site can be used as a nursery school or a facility for the elderly.

She also touched on the fury of wholesalers and consumers over toxic soil and other problems at the new venue for the famed Tsukiji fish market in the Toyosu area in Koto Ward.

The former environment minister said she will study and respond to the safety concerns by October.

“The problems facing Tokyo have been on the agenda of former governors for long time,” Koike told reporters during her first news conference at the metropolitan government office last Friday.

During her first week in office, Koike drafted a new budget for the next fiscal year, reflecting current needs resulting from or related to global trends and changes, including Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“For me, Tokyoites’ (needs) come first,” Koike pledged.

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