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Koike’s Art of War: A Woman Taking on Japan’s Political Establishment



Some 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. I may be a bit late in writing its sequel, but what I wish to propose is an Art of War for Women.


I am the governor of Tokyo, our nation’s capital, a megacity which in population, economic might, and other indices is equal to whole other countries. I have set myself the task of explaining, in plain language, the state of Tokyo today.


The world and its industries are in the midst of epochal change. In order for Tokyo to be able not only to survive these changes, but to take advantage of them and prosper, it will not be enough to simply continue along the same growth that we have followed thus far. We need a new perspective, one different from the ways of thinking that worked in the past. We have to be strategic as we face the future.


There is a special reception room next to the governor’s office. On the walls of that room are photographs of every Tokyo Governor since Yasui Seiichiro (1891-1962). The photographs show the faces of the men who protected Tokyo from age to age, nurturing it as it grew and reinventing and rebuilding it when necessary.


When I look at these photographs, I feel nothing but admiration and respect for the hard work of my predecessors, and I also feel the historic duty that rests on my own shoulders to effect a “great Tokyo reform” in order for this great city to stay out in front of the changes of my own time.


I entered into the gubernatorial election last summer with the full realization that the retreat routes had all been cut off. I had the endorsement of no political party, and I had virtually no one in frontline politics in my camp. Indeed, day after day, the professional politicians and pundits went on television to analyze my campaign: “a reckless challenge” was the opinion of many.




But how did it all turn out? One by one, people throughout Tokyo began to raise the green banner that was the symbol of my campaign, and their numbers swelled as the days went on. The wants, needs, and expectations of Tokyoites went beyond the experiences of the professional political class, who seemed to have lost touch with the yearnings of Tokyo’s citizens.


There is a famous passage from Sun Tzu’s Art of War: “If you know your enemy and know yourself, then in a hundred battles out of a hundred you will not be imperiled.” I am still not fully ready and I still do not completely know myself, but there is one thing I have branded on my heart: I put Tokyoites first. I follow this motto every day, in every way. This is how I emerged victorious over the antiquated establishment and its outmoded ways of fighting political battles.


The professional politicians can often be heard asking, “What exactly are the great Tokyo reforms?” In everything from the plan to relocate the Tsukiji fish market to Toyosu to the still-high costs for Olympic construction, many people shout that they didn’t know what was happening, had no idea of the problems, needed evidence that Tokyo’s citizens saw in plain sight, and so on. But why didn’t they try harder before now to find out for themselves what was happening?


The goal of my “great Tokyo reforms” is to create three Tokyos: a safe and secure Tokyo, a Tokyo in which anyone can put their talents to the fullest use, and an environmentally and financially progressive Tokyo. The key point of these reforms lies in recovering the prevailing wisdom of capital-city politics. By “recovering the prevailing wisdom,” I mean it should once again be expected that politicians in Tokyo will propose just, fair, and inclusive policies, and then will expend every effort to see those policies through, all the while seeking the understanding and approval of their constituents, the citizens of Tokyo who pay the taxes which support the policies and, yes, the politicians. But the fairest, most just policies in the world will come to no avail without the transparency needed to gain citizens’ trust.


The first thing I did as governor was to open the city’s books to the citizens and make that information accessible to all. This is in contrast to my predecessor in office, Yoichi Masuzoe, for example, who redacted almost all of the itemized expenses for his overseas business trips. Everyone will be aware by now that Governor Masuzoe’s expense account sheets were so heavily redacted that they resembled a block of dried seaweed laid over a bed of white rice. The prevailing wisdom in this case was that Tokyoites should be kept in the dark, unable to check to see what the governor and his staff were up to.


Once in office, I wasted no time in making a big change—the principle would no longer be “redact everything” but, rather, “reveal everything.” True, we must protect personal information. But if we redact only that and leave everything else open to public inspection, then our lunchbox of white rice no longer is blotted by dark slashes of dried seaweed. It is more like a single pickled red plum on top of the rice like the flag of Japan —hiding personal information, as it were—with the rest wide open for the public to view. Simply by doing this, the public’s legitimate need to hold their government accountable is enhanced, and this transparency, I believe, will bring much greater public engagement with Tokyo politics.


Expenditures of the public’s money should be the most transparent. It is in that spirit that I launched sweeping reforms in the way city budgets are put together. I abolished the so-called “budgetary system for reinvigorating the political parties,” thus dealing a blow to patronage and cronyism, and returned the power of the purse to the government and the governor, where it belongs.


Some political parties criticized me for this. But the transition process itself was also open, and I feel that this was all a step toward making transparent the way in which the governor and city council members—each of whom are elected vote by vote by the citizens of Tokyo—do the jobs that they were put in office to do.


Over the course of battle, a commander must decide when to advance and when to retreat. And when the commander issues an order, Sun Tzu teaches that it is essential that he or she know the lay of the land and have a firm grasp of accurate information. Tokyo, as Japan’s capital, is the engine of Japanese growth. In order for Tokyo to continue to be a beacon for the rest of the country, and become once again a beacon for Asia, it is indispensable that we make investments in the future that take account of our present circumstances.


I aim to bring forth a New Tokyo, not only for the present generation, but also widening my view to include those who will be born and live in Tokyo in the years to come. When guarding a precious thing, there are times when one must be bold enough to change course. If we allow Tokyo to waste away, then there will be nothing left for us or for future generations.


So I will not be trapped or confined by the conventional wisdom of the past. I know well what I must do and am prepared to do it: I must utilize a new kind of prevailing wisdom that allows us to create a capital city of which we can all be proud, both now and into the future.


Yuriko Koike is the governor of Tokyo. She has proposed great reforms for the capital city, and here sets forth her vision for Tokyo and for Japan in light of her own experiences.


(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)


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