Public health politician

2 min read

When she was running for a seat in Japan’s house of representatives, Mayuko Toyota, SM ’02, one day found herself standing in the rain on crutches, giving a speech at a common venue for politicking in that country: outside the train station.

“I might have looked miserable,” she said, explaining that an injury had her hobbling around for three months during her campaign. It was already challenging enough running for office without a fortune or family connections, and with two toddlers at home.

Still, Toyota was optimistic about her prospects. “I don’t know the reason,” she said, “but I never imagined that I would lose.”

A member of the Liberal Democratic Party, she was among a wave of relative unknowns who got elected to the house in 2012 after Japan simplified the system by which candidates enter the electoral process. The change opened the door to many people like Toyota—educated professionals outside the establishment who were willing to knock on doors and win over voters with the power of their ideas.

During a recent visit to Boston, Toyota discussed her trailblazing career from bureaucrat to Harvard School of Public Health student to diplomat to politician. She had come to the United States with a delegation of fellow Japanese legislators involved in a parliamentary exchange with members of Congress.