The ceiling glass in Japanese politics is still unbroken, but Yuriko Koike, the newly elected mayor of Tokyo put a huge crack in it. Despite the lack of her party’s support, she became the first woman to ever hold the office of governor of the Japanese capital and the first woman in the region of East Asia to exercise this kind of power.
This former minister of environment and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party challenged Hiroya Masuda, minister of interior affairs, who was officially endorsed by the party, and Shuntaro Torigoe, candidate of the opposition and an experienced journalist. Not only did Koike cope with the lack of her party’s approval and a hostile attitude of the Japanese toward women in politics (in Japan women occupy only 9.5% seats in the Parliament), she turned it to her advantage. She skillfully created a powerful image of a lonely warrior and a modern version of the French medieval war heroine, Jeanne d’Arc who fought for her country and died burnt by enemies.
After a landslide victory in the elections, marked by an unusually high level of participation, Koike declared that she would not have been able to win without women’s support and that she will prioritize women’s issues during her tenure by working in line with necessities regarding day care or elderly centers or work-balance life, but also by encouraging greater women’s participation in the public life.
Yuriko Koike started her political career in 1992 when she was elected for the first time to the Upper Chamber. Before entering to the Lower Chamber when she remained for eight terms, Koike worked as a TV news anchor and translator in Arab language (she spent four years in Cairo, Egypt, between 1972 and 1976, studying sociology). Koike used her TV experience to become one of the most known politicians in Japan. Between 2003 and 2006 she occupied the office of Minister of Environment and authored several strongly mediatized actions such as a campaign for the carbon tax reduction and the respect of the Kyoto Protocol or the “Biz Cool” campaign aiming at encouraging people to wear casual dress to work on Friday to reduce the use of electricity by limiting the use of air conditioning. By the same token, between 2004 and 2006 she occupied a highly diplomatic office of the State Minister for Okinawa, where for years an American military base was a source of public disapproval, and the Northern territories, a group of islands generating conflicts with Russia.
Widely known for her political combativeness, Koike is called “Aya Ueto of the LDP” in reference to the Japanese actress who became famous for playing the role of a kunoichi (woman ninja) in the movie Azumi by Ryuhei Kitamura. In 2006 she became the Special Advisor for National Security to the Prime Minister. One year later she was nominated Minister of Defense, being the first woman in Japan to hold the office and the second one among G8 countries. When she left the office some months later, she finished her press conference with the sentence: “I shall return”. Indeed, Yuriko Koike returned on the podium of the political leadership in Japan and it seems that she has not said her last word.