OPINION: Yuriko Koike, the Governor Who Could
By Takashi Uesugi
Something amazing has happened in Asia's largest city.
Following her election to Governorship of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike broke a major taboo that has been a logjam for years in preventing the city from moving forward. In a major break with the past, Koike met with the Communist Party, the major opposition party in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, and offered the hand of friendship and inclusion.
This move was unprecedented in modern history. For nearly a quarter century, the Communist Party, a major player in the Assembly, had been excluded from all interparty cooperation. Koike (64), herself an ex-journalist, Cairo University graduate, three-term member of Parliament and fluent in English and Arabic, appears to have immediately set to work dismantling some major impediments to moving the city forward to meet its challenges.
Among them, of course, are the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
Next on Koike’s agenda was to halt the move of the world renowned Tsukiji Market -- the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and a major tourist attraction – to Toyosu. The market is run by Tokyo’s Metropolitan Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs.
But to Koike, the move didn’t make sense, and the total price tag for the move did not add up. She ordered a two-year time frame to evaluate the market’s move out of central Tokyo. Many fish merchants have also opposed the move due to concerns about soil pollution at Toyosu and shortcomings in the planned facilities.
Tokyo Gas formerly operated a gas plant at the site for over 30 years until the late 1980s. It revealed that the soil contained high levels of toxic chemicals such as lead, arsenic, benzene. Tsukiji market was slated to close on Nov. 2 and re-open at Toyosu on Nov. 7.
To say "no" to a major construction industry boondoggle on behalf of Tokyo’s citizenry, weary of corruption, required rare courage on the part of the new governor. Even though I ran against Koike in the gubernatorial election, she and I spoke regularly spoke on the telephone during the campaign. I was pleased to see that after her victory, she adopted some on my platform’s major planks.
"Tokyo First," which stresses transparency and accountability to the electorate, was a major theme of my campaign for Tokyo governor, and Koike is now implementing some of my suggestions. These include putting all city services, information and finances on a cloud-based computer system that citizens may access and examine.
Needless to say, this is a major breakthrough. Amidst much grumbling, smiles have also lit the faces of citizens across the city, as Koike earns admiration and respect.
"It took a woman to shake things up," say some.
Indeed, Koike is no stranger to turning the status quo on its head. In 2007, she became Japan's first ever female defense minister, and in 2008 was the first woman to run for head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). She was elected as Tokyo's first ever female governor in August.
I lost the Tokyo election to Ms. Koike, but with my number on her speed dial, I think it has all turned out for the good.
Takashi Uesugi is one of Japan's premier journalists, a former writer for The New York Times, and author of 38 books. He was a candidate in the 2016 Tokyo gubernatorial election. He hosts the weekly program "Weekly Literacy" on the MX TV Network. Edited by Brad Frischkorn
Edited by Brad Frischkorn
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