Dr Tomoko Seto
‘Sometimes I feel like complaining, “I’m not your spiritual comfort woman.’” This line is from a 2018 blog post by Sato Azusa (b. 1984), a city assembly member of Hachioji (Tokyo), referring to some of her male supporters. A member of the Social Democratic Party, Sato had garnered unusual media attention for being a ‘beautiful assembly member (bijin shigi)’ at the time of her electoral victory in 2014. The media rarely followed Sato’s activities afterwards, even though she vigorously raised policy inquiries related to gender and welfare. In her 2018 online posts that included the line above, she detailed her sufferings from ongoing harassments and announced her retirement planned in early 2019. The harassments included persistent ‘guidance,’ or mansplaining, repeated private phone calls, and online blackmailing, all from her senior male supporters on the Left. For Sato it was difficult to voice against them due to the pressure to respect her local constituents sharing her political views. Her case is indicative of intersectional obstacles involving gender, age, and power relations affecting many progressive female politicians in Japan today. Through media sources and interviews, my paper explores problematic yet less-studied experiences of female progressive local politicians in relation to their supporters.
Tomoko Seto is Assistant Professor of Japanese history at Yonsei University, Korea. Her publications include “‘Organizing” Meiji Women: The Role of the Japanese Chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union for Individual Activists, 1900–1905,’ Women’s History Review (2017) and “‘Anarchist Beauties” in Late Meiji Japan,’ Radical History Review (2016).