A record 36 women won seats Sunday in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, raising hopes they can help change Japan’s male-dominated political world.
Women now comprise some 30 percent of the 127-member legislature, up from about 20 percent, or 25 seats, before the election.
That’s higher than the 9.9 percent average calculated for prefectural assemblies across Japan late last year. A record 65 of the 259 candidates fielded for Tokyo’s election were women.
Reina Saito, a 38-year-old singer and mother of two, won a seat running for Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), the new party led by Tokyo’s first female governor, Yuriko Koike.
“I want to work hard on child-rearing support and measures against child abuse for the younger generation,” Saito said Monday morning during a speech in the city of Tama, part of the Minamitama constituency. She bowed her head as a passerby congratulated her.
Known by her stage name “lecca,” Saito has a 10-year career in music that includes a solo concert at Nippon Budokan hall in 2012. While she believes music has the power to influence society, she has also come to see politics as an effective means of bringing about change.
“We need the power of politics,” she said, explaining why she had decided to run for the assembly.
During the campaign, Saito said there was a need to address differences in the cost of preschool child care caused by limited capacity in cheaper certified day care centers. Parents unable to secure places are being forced to leave their children at uncertified facilities, where prices reflect the high demand.
Japan is struggling with a shortage of such facilities, especially in urban areas, because more women are entering the workforce.
Ayumi Saigo, 32, who also belongs to Tomin First, was elected from Chuo Ward. She drew attention for running while four months pregnant.
Although Saigo sometimes didn’t feel well and had trouble delivering her speeches, she managed to ride out the nine-day campaign with help from her staff.
Saigo also said she felt the public’s kindness when voters asked how she was doing and encouraged her.
Saigo, who plans to take maternity leave despite just being elected, admitted that some voters were critical of her decision. But the new assemblywoman said this was a topic for further debate.
“The assembly must offer role models and lead discussions to create a society where women can work comfortably,” she said.
Mariko Saito, 42, of the Japanese Communist Party, won election from Adachi Ward. On her website, she said she was initially motivated to run after failing to get a spot at a day care center for her son, and discovered in the process that more than 1,000 other children were on waiting lists in the ward.
“This problem is not just about increasing the number of day care centers. We must ensure their quality as well,” said Saito, whose son is now 6 years old.
She also recalled that she was impressed when she was told by her boss at a foreign-affiliated company where she formerly worked, “We do not discriminate against women based on their age or marital status.”
Noting that most members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly are still male, Saito said, “I hope I can change this assembly into one that listens more to the voices of citizens.”