Japan's younger generation is taking over the reins of poweras several new and diverse faces have emerged in the country's by-elections this week. This shift in leadership has been celebrated by supporters as a refreshing change from the conservative older men who have mostly dominated the government.
Data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union reveals that the majority of Japan's parliamentarians are between the ages of 50 to 70 and are predominantly male, making up 75% of the governing body.
One of the new faces that has made headlines is Ryosuke Takashima, who, at 26 years old, has become Japan's youngest-ever mayor, as reported by Japanese public broadcaster NHK. Takashima, who holds a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from Harvard University, graduated just last year.
Ryosuke Takashima stated to reporters, as reported by NHK, that his youth could potentially make him more relatable to citizens. He expressed his willingness to learn and incorporate new ideas into his vision, as he has no prior political experience. Takashima's election victory as the youngest mayor in Japan's history surpasses the previous record holder, Kotaro Shishida, who was elected at the age of 27 in 1994.
During his campaign, Takashima focused on promoting green infrastructure planning, creating more public spaces and parks, as well as improving education, childcare, and youth healthcare. He is set to assume the role of mayor of Ashiya City in Hyogo Prefecture on May 1.
Another young candidate, a 26-year-old YouTuber known as "Shin the Hiratsuka YouTuber," ran for and won a seat in the Hiratsuka City Council. In addition to running a Pokemon card store, Shin is recognized for his YouTube channel, where he produces videos about local businesses and events. One of his most popular videos features a review of ten recommended ramen shops in Hiratsuka.
Shin, also known as "Shin the Hiratsuka YouTuber," became motivated to run for city council after producing videos and interacting with local business owners. Through these interactions, he discovered the difficulties they faced and aimed to bring a fresh perspective to the stagnant political climate.
Arfiya Eri, who was elected to Japan's Upper House
His campaign prioritized childcare issues, as well as supporting the elderly due to Japan's aging population and declining workforce. As a single father with a 3-year-old son, Shin emphasized the importance of work-life balance and providing greater support for parents.
Ayaka Nasuno, a 25-year-old politician, also entered the political scene by winning the highest number of votes for the Kawasaki City Council earlier this month. Having been bullied as a child, Nasuno sought to create a community by organizing a local trash cleanup campaign, which led to her involvement with local resources and constituents. Following her election victory, Nasuno expressed her dedication to serving her hometown and working towards its betterment.
Arfiya Eri, a 34-year-old advocate for women's rights and gender equality, has gained attention during this election season. Eri's parents are of Uyghur and Uzbek descent, making her the first woman of Uyghur heritage to be elected to any parliament in the world, as noted by the World Uyghur Congress. This achievement is seen as significant for both the Uyghur Japanese community and the global Uyghur diaspora.
The Uyghur ethnic group primarily resides in China's western Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has been accused of committing human rights violations against Uyghurs. Last September, the United Nations deemed these actions "crimes against humanity," and the United States has previously accused China of detaining up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in detention camps. China has repeatedly denied these allegations.
Furthermore, Eri's election is notable because she is one of the few parliament members with non-Japanese ancestry, highlighting Japan's comparatively low levels of immigration and its homogeneous population.
During her childhood, Eri lived in Japan before moving to China. She later studied at Georgetown University in the United States and worked for the United Nations, where she conducted research on Uyghur issues, as described on her official website. In one of her blog posts, Eri expressed condemnation of the "unspeakable tragic oppression and human rights violations" being perpetrated against Uyghurs.
Eri has also drawn attention to Japan's male-dominated politics and society, highlighting issues such as the gender pay gap, the disproportionate burden of housework and childcare on women, and the need for men to play a more active role in raising children. In her blog post last year, Eri stated that her election as a "33-year-old working woman" would send a message to the world that "Japan is going to move forward."