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36-year-old woman to become youngest female mayor in Japan

Sawako Naito, center, rejoices after securing her victory in the Tokushima mayoral election, in the city of Tokushima on the evening of April 5, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryoichi Mochizuki)

TOKUSHIMA -- A 36-year-old woman is set to become the youngest ever female mayor in Japan after winning an election in this western Japan city on April 5.

Sawako Naito, who was elected mayor of Tokushima in the April 5 election, greets voters in the city of Tokushima on the morning of April 6, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryoichi Mochizuki)

Sawako Naito, who ran as a fresh independent, defeated incumbent Akiyoshi Endo, 64, to be elected mayor of Tokushima, Tokushima Prefecture, at age 36 years and eight days. Naito garnered some 2,000 more votes than Endo, also an independent.

A native of Tokushima, Naito graduated from the University of Tokyo and currently heads an organization for urban development. During her days at the nation's top university, she developed multiple sclerosis -- an intractable disease in which brain and spinal nerve sheaths are destroyed. She later came into the spotlight after publishing a book in 2009 titled "Nanbyo Todaisei" (A University of Tokyo student with an intractable disease), which tells of her college days when she struggled with her ailment while living with a positive spirit.

The focal point of the mayoral election was issues surrounding the management of the popular Awa Odori dance festival and a project for developing a new music and cultural hall, over which the city has been at odds with the Tokushima Prefectural Government. The turnout for the April 5 election was 38.88%, down from 45.7% in the previous mayoral contest.

According to the Japan Association of City Mayors, the previously youngest woman to be elected mayor in the country was Naomi Koshi, who won the election in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, western Japan, in 2012, at age 36 years and six months.

On April 6, the day after the Tokushima mayoral poll, Naito stood in front of her office in the city shortly after 8 a.m., waving and bowing deeply to citizens and drivers to report her victory. In a bid to avoid infections with the novel coronavirus, she exchanged a fist bump with a man who passed by on a bicycle.

"I could hardly sleep (last night), and I'm still excited," a smiling Naito told reporters.

"As I'm set to be the youngest female mayor in the nation, I think citizens are placing their expectations on me for my youth and womanhood. I'd like to develop an exciting town by getting young generations and families with small children involved," she said.

(Japanese original by Ayane Matsuyama and Sakura Iwamoto, Tokushima Bureau)

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