Yuki Kumiko, four times chairperson of Tokyo’s Minato ward, is an embodiment and true representation of how society benefits when women are able to assume positions of political power. A single parent to two children, she shatters all the boxes Japanese women were ever put in.

Kumiko was the first woman in the history of Minato ward to give birth to two children while serving as an active member of parliament. Also the first woman in Minato to be elected as a chairperson, she is now a legislator with two decades of experience with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Tokyo Weekender met with this endearing “woman of many firsts” for an interview, during which she told us all about her life and experiences.

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Can you tell us about your job responsibilities and when was your last tenure as chairperson?

As a member of the Minato ward council, I am a part of The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly President’s Conference, where we are responsible for reviewing and determining policies for all the 23 wards of Tokyo. Additionally, I was an auditor for the 23 wards assembly presidents’ conference, where I represented the conference and visited ministers making appeals to the national government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for reforms. My latest tenure heading the ward was from June 2022 to May 2023.

What do you think are the required qualities to excel as a woman in politics in Japan?

I believe we need strength, both physical and mental. There is a dearth of women in the Cabinet and to surpass a lot of structural situations, strength is required. Japanese politics is still a predominantly male-dominated world, but I believe the government is wise to understand the impact of gender on democracy and how having women in policymaking only benefits the most vulnerable in society. Of course, I understand that women and men are different, but that difference needs to be used to enrich our politics. Research shows women politicians eventually tend to prioritize one of these three: healthcare, welfare and education, which in turn create more equal and caring societies.

What made you choose such a difficult field dominated by men?

I think I choose this career precisely because it is a field where female representation is lacking. It is immensely satisfying to be able to make a difference in the lives of others. Particularly in the realm of politics, I believe that the impact could be significant and far-reaching. I saw the opportunity to engage in fields that genuinely interested me, such as intergenerational exchange and environmental education.

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Can you share with us one of the initiatives you started during your tenure that means a lot to you?

My focus has always been on creating more and equal opportunities for women. In recent years, there has been a staggering increase in council women in the Minato ward. The figure currently exceeds 40%. Moving forward, I am determined to further emphasize environmental education, which would enhance problem-solving skills and more vocational education-related courses. Additionally, as a council member, I aim to foster intergenerational exchange, recognizing the value of virtual advancements that allow for realistic experiential learning, which is crucial moving ahead.

How much influence did your mother have on your career?

I am the eldest daughter of two siblings. When I was young, my mother got divorced and raised us along with my grandmother. My mother worked as an instructor for employee training at a human resources development company. I think I got my interest in politics from her. She was deeply interested in politics and economics, and I would assist her during my student days as a team member organizing various study groups and events.

You have two young kids you are raising alone. What message would you most want to instill in them?

I have two boys — Daniel is 9 and Pedro is 7 — and they mean the world to me. They lost their father when they were 2 and 5 years old, and since then it’s been just us three. I honestly don’t know what I am doing right as a parent or what I bring to the table for them to learn from me. I don’t take myself too seriously and I believe I have had more failures than successes. But then again, failures are a good foundation of success.

For that very reason, I wish for them to experience life with their eyes and hands open. I want them to explore and challenge themselves. I want them to travel the world, meet new people and have new experiences. Also, I want them to respect nature and find real joy in studying. I want them to be sensitive toward others but never scared to try something new. I hope they will become people who can feel true happiness and gratitude in their daily lives.

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How do you manage the gig of being a single mom and a political figure at the same time? And how do you find time to unwind?

Due to the nature of my community-oriented work, I have received a lot of support from many people. My supporters help take care of my children, and sometimes I hire babysitters as well. However, keeping track of my children’s homework and school activities has been challenging, and it is something I reflect upon as an area for improvement. In all honesty, I have very little time for myself to relax, with sleep being the only opportunity for true relaxation. However, I find my work with NPOs a way to rejuvenate myself by participating in programs like nature experiences.

What do you like most about your job and what inspires you?

I love the Minato ward where I was born and raised. It brings me joy to be involved in its everyday activities. The ever-changing landscape of people and the city due to the passage of time can be both nostalgic and exciting. My purpose in life is to contribute to the development of Minato ward by enhancing its strengths and addressing its weaknesses, while also creating a community that is loved by many.