Mayor Shoko Kawata: Welcomed for Better Yawata

Mayor Shoko Kawata was elected in November 2023 to lead Yawata, southern Kyoto Prefecture. Having no direct ties with the city, Shoko Kawata surprisingly managed to appeal to the almost 70,000 people residing there. Her victory was, thus, mentioned by some media as “unexpected”, though welcomed by some. Coming from a family with no political power or network does not stop her from making further efforts. Instead, it sparks her interest to do more for the betterment of the city.

Her childhood was spent witnessing her little brother with intellectual disabilities and difficulty speaking from an early age receive limited support. “The local government at that time didn’t provide educational support programmes, making it challenging to find suitable assistance,” she said. This experience inspired her to ensure that one day society can get access to the aid and facilities for such struggles. “I realised that the power to change the framework lay not just in working within administrative boundaries but also in the political arena,” she said. That marks the beginning of her journey in the political arena.

Before running for mayor, Kawata worked as a caseworker in Kyoto. There, she described how she witnessed children being abandoned by their parents and how employees at child consultation centres were overloaded. Kawata also served as a secretary to Akiko Santo, the female member of the House of Councillors. Santo saw the spark of interest in Kawata and her love for the city. Thus, before the official start of the campaign, Santo expressed her support to Kawata despite her lack of connection with the city, “… She loves Yawata and is eager to go to work on behalf of the city … With the feelings of a parent, I ask you to support her.”

Kawata, an independent, was supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition party Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, and junior coalition partner Komeito in the mayoral election. Her campaign was to provide a platform for free medical care for children up to the age of 18. Winning the election on November 13, 2023, Kawata celebrated by saying, “I want to empathise with people from all generations and work on creating a community that can grow.” Her journey has just begun with challenges awaiting along the way, particularly in a place where women are rarely seen at the forefront. Kawata has made the first crucial step to make her aspiration realised.