Mayor Sawako Naito: Tokushima’s Youngest Elected Mayor Gives the City a Breath of Fresh Air

Tokushima is the capital and largest city of Tokushima Prefecture. Located on the Kii Channel, the city plays a pivotal role in connecting the Pacific Ocean and Seto Inland Sea. Recently, Tokushima broke a new record with the election of Sawako Naito as the youngest female mayor in Japan. Prior to her run, Mayor Sawako Naito served as a member of councils and review committees in Tokushima Prefecture and the prefectural capital in areas including tourism, gender equality, social welfare for persons with disabilities, and education. Having physical condition, Mayor Sawako Naito proves that it does not limit her to contribute her best to her city.

In her early life, she developed multiple sclerosis, an intractable disease that forces her to take medication periodically. After beginning treatment for the disorder, she wrote a book detailing her experience. Tirelessly in her efforts, she then established a committee to revitalise her hometown, soliciting young people’s ideas. With critics coming from people who questioned whether or not she was physically fit enough for the job, she brushed off all the comments and showing her outstanding performance to shatter the notion that people with intractable diseases cannot do the major’s job. This auspicious beginning led her along a community development path, which later became the central theme of her campaign and won her.

Despite being the youngest and a novice, Mayor Sawako Naito frequently has been seen as having significant and bold statements. She has brought a new wind into Tokushima with her woman’s perspective regarding her city development plans. Her focus on children, social welfare, education, and diversity manifests through her seven project lists. Written on the list, she intended to reform Tokushima as a town that raises children and provides welfare, reflected on her diaper delivery program in Akashi City and children’s home-meal in Bunkyo Ward, in collaboration with child-rearing support groups. Her plans also include creating a reachable counselling centre for children and families using the mobile counselling app and the existing mobile library. Mayor Sawako Naito also emphasises child’s education by involving Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) education and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-equipped apps, maximising the personal computer or tablet given to the individual promoted by the Ministry of Education.

To support Tokushima’s financial reform, Mayor Sawako Naito pledges to cut her salary by 50 percent until her city’s financial situation improves. Besides, to drive the local economy, she develops measures to create vitality in the local economy by collaborating with consortiums, venture capital, and various companies to create a digital ecosystem where human resources collaborate with technologies.

Mayor Sawako Naito is a political newcomer running an independent and non-traditional campaign. Lagging far behind, Japan currently ranks 121st out of 153 countries in the 2020 edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Backed by some leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party’s prefectural chapter, she proves that man-dominated politics have changed slowly. “I hope that Japan produces female politicians and leaders who are younger than me,” she said.