Woman living in Leuven elected to be mayor in Japan

Woman living in Leuven elected to be mayor in Japan
Credit: Kishimoto Satoko/Facebook

Satoko Kishimoto, a woman who has lived in the Flemish city of Leuven with her family for over ten years, has been elected mayor in Suginami, a district in Tokyo, Japan.

Kishimoto has Japanese roots, but has been living with her husband Olivier Hoedeman and her two children in the Kessel-Lo district of Leuven for over a decade now. Still, she has always maintained strong ties with her homeland.

“During the Covid-19 crisis, when everything happened online, Satoko participated a lot in online public debates in Japan from Leuven,” her husband Olivier Hoedeman said on Flemish local radio on Monday.

“Satoko is very interested in politics and through her work for the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, she knows a lot about it too,” he said. “She became very popular with the progressive movement in Japan and was asked to run for mayor in Suginami.”

Tweet translation: It’s amazing that the new ward mayor will have a place to gather and celebrate on the day of the election, and more people from the ward will speak! Shivering.

Suginami City is a ward of Tokyo, Japan’s capital, with an estimated population of over half a million inhabitants. Currently, Kishimoto is in Suginami, where she spent several weeks campaigning.

“Satoko lived the first 25 years of her life in Japan. After that, she moved to the Netherlands and then to Leuven, where we have lived together for more than ten years and now have two children,” said Hoedeman.

“But Satoko has always kept the connection with Japan, so when the invitation came to run for mayor, she was immediately very enthusiastic,” he said, adding that they never expected that she would be elected.

‘Beginning of a fresh wind’

“The election result came as a huge surprise. Satoko defeated the conservative mayor in office. Apparently, her political message appealed to many citizens,” Hoedeman explained. “Satoko wants less privatisation and more citizen participation.”

As she has always kept her link with Japan strong, the residents of Suginami consider her “a real Japanese person,” despite the fact that she has not lived in the city for a decade. Her election is also big news across Japan, where it is seen as “the beginning of a fresh wind” in the country’s politics, according to Hoedeman.

Whether Kishimoto and her husband will move to Japan, or how they will go about it is not yet certain, he said. “Our youngest son is still in secondary school and still has a few years to go. So moving to Japan is not going to be so easy. We still have to think about it.”


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