It is a race to take charge of the world’s largest city – a metropolis with a population more than half the size of the United Kingdom and with a GDP greater than all but 10 countries. But the election for the post of governor of Tokyo has piqued interest not only because of the size of the task which falls to its victor, but also for the mud slinging and misogyny which has characterised the fight between the candidates. Voters in Tokyo will go to the polls on Sunday amid a campaign marred by events that some say highlights the worst of Japan’s male-dominated politics. The winner will take over after the two previous incumbents resigned in disgrace, and is tasked with overseeing the 2020 Olympics, coming up with ways to offset problems caused by the capital’s rapidly ageing population, and providing better child care services. It is a weighty job serving approximately 37 million people in the Tokyo metro area and a record 21 candidates are running.
The race has boiled down to three major candidates, including Yuriko Koike, a graduate of Cairo University, and former government minister. If elected Koike would be the first female governor of Tokyo, and only the seventh woman to run one of Japan’s 47 prefectural areas.
Koike broke ranks with the Liberal Democratic party to run as an independent, against the establishment candidate Hiroya Masuda, a one-time cabinet minister. And she has since faced sexist attacks. Earlier this week a former Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara, referred to the 64-year-old Koike and her make up in terms that translate as “a caked-up old woman well past her prime”.
Women remain under-represented in the halls of power, occupying only 45 of the 475 seats in the lower house of parliament. The sexist nature of Japanese society also appears to condone a gender prejudice that would not be tolerated in other advanced nations.