Akiko Domoto didn't choose to go into politics. Instead, voters came looking for her--for good reason. In 1989, Domoto was at the peak of her career as an award-winning Japanese TV director known for her coverage of feminist and environmental issues. She supported a "women's power" political movement that was sweeping the country, and before long found herself nominated as an opposition candidate in an Upper House election.
Domoto won--and that was the start of a fruitful political career. Domoto went on to help draft and pass legislation banning domestic violence, gender discrimination, and child prostitution. Her latest political triumph came early this year, when a local citizen's group persuaded her to run for governor of Chiba Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. She won that race, despite having no funds and no organized campaign. "I think of it as a citizens' grassroots revolution," says the optimistic Domoto, 68. "The people of Chiba are very eager for change."
And change is what they're getting. Domoto's first task upon taking up her post in April was to convert the old-fashioned governor's office into a communications center. "I ended up bringing my own computer and fax machine in order to keep in touch with people all over Japan and the world," she explains. Then she invited local citizens to take part in the decision-making process. At the top of her agenda is to reassess land-reclamation projects that are destroying tidelands along Chiba's coastline. "Up until now, policy on these types of issues was decided from the top down," says Domoto. "I am trying to change it so that it is decided from the bottom up."
The energetic governor is just getting warmed up. She plans to reduce spending on old-fashioned road-paving and other infrastructure projects favored by the previous government, while boosting funds for education and care for the elderly. She also aims to introduce legislation to curtail the dumping of industrial waste, a serious problem in the region.
Domoto is hoping that her grassroots revolution will spread across the country. "The people of Japan need to realize that we should elect truly democratic candidates, not candidates with ties to special interest groups," she says. "When this happens, there will be a big change in Japanese politics." No one doubts Domoto is helping to speed up the process.