Outstanding female mayors of Japan

(Posted on March 13, 2024)


The current mayor of Tokyo, the capital of Japan with a population of 12 million, is Koike Yuriko in her second term (four years per term). Hayasi Fumiko was the mayor of Yokohama, the second largest city with a population of over three million, for three terms from 2009 to 2021. They are the first female mayors of those respective cities. Other than female mayors, they differ greatly in terms of their backgrounds, political experience and carrying out the governorship itself. Let’s look more closely.

                                                            (an official portrait)


Koike Yuriko was born in 1952 and graduated from the University of Cairo in 1976 (largely influenced by her father’s business engagement in Egypt). She became a TV news anchorperson from 1979 to 1985. With this flamboyant exposure to the public, Koike successfully entered into politics firstly as a member of the House of Councilors in 1992, then became a member of the House of Representatives. She held several ministerial positions including the environmental minister in 2003, the minister in charge of Okinawa and the northern islands under the Russian control in 2004, and the first female defense minister in 2007. As such, Koike accumulated her political experience and became the mayor of Tokyo in 2016.


How has Koike fared as the governor? During her first term from 2016 to 2020, Koike tackled high-profile issues one after another. The transfer of Tokyo’s iconic market from Tsukiji to Toyosu in 2018, which was delayed by two years because of additional work required for treating compromised soil. Then came the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, which was initially scheduled to be held in 2020, because of the Covid pandemic. And of course, setting up a response to the pandemic and carrying it out.


As far as her second term is concerned, Koike seemed to focus on her agendas of “transforming Tokyo 2.0”, with a “Tokyo first” approach. They include making Tokyo stream lined fiscally and achieving economic growth through utilizing digitalization. Koike’s second term expires in July, 2024. We do not know yet whether she will run for a third term.     


Now, it’s Hayashi Fumiko’s turn. Very much contrary to Koike, Hayashi seemed to assume a more professional business atmosphere. She was borne in 1946. After graduating from high school, Hayashi started to work in order to support her mother. Initially, she found difficulties in working in a male-dominated environment. Things changed a lot when she joined one of the car distributors as a sales person, where she competed squarely with male sales men. Eventually, Hayashi managed to climb the ladder. She become president of a VW distributorship in Tokyo in 1999; president of BMW Tokyo in 2003 and the president of Daiei (Japan’s first general merchandize store) in 2005.


Let’s turn to her feats during her three terms as the governor of Yokohama. Perhaps, one of the high-profile achievements of Hayashi was enabling young parents to send their infants to nursery schools without waiting: there were 1,552 infants on the waiting list in 2010 (the highest in Japan at that time) and this dropped to zero by 2013. She also endeavored to make free medical services for all school children up to 6th grade (expanded to 9th graders in 2023). But she was only halfway through in implementing school lunch for junior high school students (up to 9th grade). Actually, Yokohama was trailing behind many other parts of Japan in this regard (will be implemented at long last in 2026).


Hayashi attempted for a fourth term in 2021, but was defeated mostly on her proposed agenda of introducing an IR (integrated resort) to Yokohama. The Yokohama voters said no to the IR, which included a casino.  Lastly, here are some of her sayings. “Everything starts with saying thank you.” “Paying attention to small details makes better relationship with others as well as work well done”    






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