31-yr-old mom to become youngest town mayor in Niigata

TSUNAN, Niigata Prefecture–A 31-year-old woman who entered politics to help her hometown of Tsunan rebuild from disaster became the youngest town mayor in Japan on June 24.

Haruka Kuwabara, wife of a pig farmer and a mother of two, defeated two male candidates, 57 and 67, on campaign pledges to support families and promote the brand image of the town.

“It is natural that constituents may worry about having a young mayor, but I will do my best for the town to generate a new movement,” Kuwabara, an independent, said after her victory.

Kuwabara was studying at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy when an earthquake struck the northern part of Nagano Prefecture on March 12, 2011.

Although quake damage to Tsunan, located on the border with Nagano Prefecture, was overshadowed by the devastation wrought by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami a day earlier, concerns for her hometown prompted Kuwabara to run for a town assembly seat.

In October 2011, at the age of 25, Kuwabara was elected to the assembly with 1,144 votes, the most in Tsunan’s history, excluding elections to fill vacancies.

She was re-elected in 2015, again receiving the most votes.

Kuwabara had also been named vice chair of the town assembly.

She replaces Yonosuke Terui, 33, in Esashi, Hokkaido, as the youngest mayor of a town or village in Japan, according to the National Association of Towns and Villages.

The youngest city mayor is Shuhei Azuma, 29, in Shijonawate, Osaka Prefecture, according to the Japan Association of City Mayors.

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