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Extreme WFH: Japanese woman wins Tokyo mayoralty—despite living almost 6,000 miles away in Belgium

June 22, 2022, 10:37 AM UTC

A Japanese woman was given a “huge surprise” when she won a mayoral election in Tokyo on Monday—namely because her home is thousands of miles away on another continent.

Satoko Kishimoto, who has lived in the Belgian city of Leuven for more than a decade, was elected mayor of Tokyo’s Suginami district on Monday.

The two cities are about 5,800 miles apart.

She narrowly defeated incumbent mayor Ryo Tanaka by just under 200 votes, after traveling to Japan to campaign in the weeks leading up to the election.

Kishimoto, an environmental activist who worked at Dutch research organization the Transnational Institute prior to running for the mayoralty, lived in Japan for the first 25 years of her life.

For more than 10 years, she has lived with her husband and two children in Belgium.

Her husband, Olivier Hoedeman, told Belgium’s Radio 2 this week that she began participating remotely in Japanese public debates when the COVID-19 pandemic saw them move online.

“Satoko is very interested in politics, and…she knows a lot about it,” he said. “She became very popular with the progressive movement in Japan, and then she was asked to run for mayor of Suginami.”

Hoedeman told Radio 2 that Kishimoto was “immediately very excited” about the prospect of running in the election—but the couple seemingly believed her chances of winning were slim.

“What we did not expect has happened—she has been elected,” he said. “The election results came as a huge surprise. Apparently, her political message has appealed to many citizens. Satoko wants less privatization and more citizen participation.”

Kishimoto—whose interests include the environment, human rights, public services, and autonomy, her website says—was supported by a citizens’ group and backed by Japan’s opposition party, according to Japanese media.

Suginami City has around half a million residents.

While Kishimoto’s Belgian residency was criticized by her political opponents during the campaign, her husband told Belgian media that she is seen as “real Japanese” by people living in the country because she maintained strong ties with Japan.

He said that her election was “seen as a breath of fresh air in Japanese politics.”

However, the family now faces some challenges, Hoedeman revealed.

“We need to think about [the practicalities] again,” he said. “Our youngest son is still in secondary education and has a few more years to go there, so moving to Japan is not going to be that easy.”

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