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Satoko Kishimoto: Breaking Barriers as First Female Mayor of Tokyo’s Suginami District

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

“We have to recognize as a national crisis this under-representation of women in politics. Women's representation has stayed almost the same for 75 years.”

Breaking a 90-year-long tradition, Satoko Kishimoto is the first female mayor the 600,000 inhabitants of the Suganami Ward in Tokyo have ever seen. Winning her election in June 2022, by a margin of just 200 votes, she ran an appealing progressive platform, advocating for anti-privatisation and environmentally friendly policies.

Women currently only hold 2% of political office positions in Japan. Kishimoto, at 48, is 19 years younger than the average Tokyo mayor. Her cabinet is primarily male-dominated, and department leadership in Suganami is entirely men. Japan, despite being the world’s third largest economy, ranks at a grossly disproportionate 116th out of 146 countries on the World Economic Forum’s report on gender gap disparities. Many other statistics released by organizations like the Inter-Parliamentary Union reflect similar findings.

“The reality is that it will take time. I want to see more women in management positions, but there is a huge hierarchy and women are not yet in a position to be able to step up.”

Kishimoto, like many other women in her line of work, has faced rampant discrimination in her career. Misogynistic ideologies and stereotypes often interfere with her campaign messages and goals.

“I really want to debate policies. But [a lot of] time is wasted in the city council addressing criticism and personal attacks.”

Prior to her election, Kishimoto had been living in Belgium for over a decade, where she was previously a programme coordinator of public alternatives at the Transnational Institute. Although critics scrutinized her living arrangements and lack of political experience in Japan, most voters did not feel that she was disconnected from Japanese politics and culture. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kishimoto was active in virtually hosting public debates in Japan, establishing her presence and competence in the political sphere. If anything, she views her “outsider” perspective as a unique advantage.

Throughout her term, Kishimoto is dedicating herself to accelerating progress for women’s representation in Japanese politics. She pushes for municipalism and stresses the importance of civilian voices.

“When I looked at Suginami and what local people faced there in terms of public services, childcare, and urban planning, I thought something had to change and I believed I could do something with them and for them.”

Editors: Alisha B., Phoebe H., Lang D.

Photo Credits: Women's Agenda


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