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Harvard College Alum Ryosuke Takashima ’19-’22 Becomes Youngest Mayor in History of Japan

Ryosuke Takashima '19-'22, who is 26, became the youngest mayor in Japanese history after winning an election against three other candidates on April 23.
Ryosuke Takashima '19-'22, who is 26, became the youngest mayor in Japanese history after winning an election against three other candidates on April 23. By Courtesy of Ryosuke Takashima
By Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writer

An interview with Ryosuke Takashima ’19-’22 in this article was translated from Japanese by Crimson News editor Ayumi Nagatomi ’26.

Following a decisive win in a unified local election on April 23, Harvard College alum Ryosuke Takashima ’19-’22 became the youngest mayor in Japanese history.

Takashima, who is 26, assumed the mayoral seat for the city of Ashiya in Hyogo Prefecture, located between Osaka and Kobe. He ran against three other candidates, one incumbent and two with prior experience in city government. His term began on May 1.

At Harvard College, Takashima lived in Eliot House and concentrated in Environmental Engineering with a secondary in Environmental Science and Public Policy, while exploring various ways to engage in politics. He also worked as a Multimedia editor for The Crimson and as director of multimedia for the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations.

“Harvard is a university that nurtures leaders of society,” Takashima said in an interview with The Crimson last week. “I was always thinking about how I could give back to society what I had learned.”

Takashima said he did not plan to run for office right after graduating from the College. It is uncommon for young politicians to win elected office in Japan, with the average age of mayors elected this cycle at 59 years old. The minimum age to hold office in Japan is 25.

“It just so happened that the timing was right after graduation,” Takashima said. “When I saw that the current situation in Ashiya was very bad, with the population rapidly decreasing, especially among the younger generation, I thought I couldn’t wait much longer.”

Takashima described Ashiya — home to 93,000 citizens — as a residential city just a little smaller than Cambridge. While Ashiya is known to be a wealthy city in Japan, it faces issues of an aging population and low birth rate, which are more pronounced than in nearby municipalities.

Though more than 80 percent of couples in Ashiya report they want to have two or more children, the average number of children per household in the city remains at 1.3, the lowest among neighboring cities.

Along with setting up an improved system for extended daycare, Takashima said he wants to implement free medical care for children, an initiative being pursued by an increasing number of municipalities.

Harvard Undergraduate Association Co-President Shikoh Misu Hirabayashi ’24, who is from Japan and received mentorship from Takashima during the college application process, said he was pleasantly surprised by the election win.

Hirabayashi said did not initially expect Takashima to win because older candidates are often perceived in Japan as more competent with “much more work experience and connections.”

“He was also fighting against an incumbent, who I know wasn’t too popular, but still had some sort of election voting base,” Hirabayashi said.

Takashima said holding consistent dialogue with citizens was key to his win. During the campaign, he organized public forums across the city and distributed a booklet containing his policy proposals to households in Ashiya.

“Many people understood that although I am young, I have a good understanding of the current situation and am trying to make effective policies,” Takashima said.

Satoshi Yanaizu ’23, who attended the same middle school and high school as Takashima, called the newly elected mayor a “local leader.” Yanaizu said he remembered how Takashima organized a volunteer group during high school for a summer festival held in Ashiya.

“He cares a lot about the community he is in,” Yanaizu said. “I think he genuinely likes Ashiya as a city and is committed to making Ashiya a better place. ”

Takashima said he has always been interested in city-level politics. He recounted that when he was young, his hometown drastically changed after the election of a new and younger mayor.

“I thought that the city government has a great deal of influence and is very closely connected to the lives of the citizens,” Takashima said.

Takashima also took multiple gap years during his time at the College, giving him the opportunity to travel the world and speak with local officials and citizens about urban planning.

As an undergraduate, Takashima enrolled in a Harvard Kennedy School workshop called, “Hi! I’m Running for Office,” which helped him learn more about participating in politics. Each session focused on different aspects of running for office and governing, he said.

“For example, I learned how to raise money and how I should work on my policies after taking office,” Takashima said. “But above all, I was glad to meet many people who were thinking of running for office in the future.”

Stephanie A. Paulsell, a faculty dean of Eliot House, remembered Takashima’s participation in events related to politics, like a Public Narrative event hosted at the house and led by organizer and HKS lecturer Marshall L. Ganz ’64-’92.

“Now looking back, I can see he was looking for opportunities to develop these sorts of political skills,” Paulsell said.

Hirabayashi said he hopes Takashima’s victory can inspire the younger generation, even as Japan has struggled with civic participation in politics in recent years.

“I really wanted him to set a precedent for other young people to also run for politics, but also to become interested in politics,” he said.

Correction: May 8, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that more than 80 percent of couples in Japan report they want to have two or more children. In fact, more than 80 percent of couples in the city of Ashiya report wanting two or more children.

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at ayumi.nagatomi@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ayumi_nagatomi.

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