American-educated councilwoman says she want to be “a spokesperson for other people of my generation who are in similar situations.”

On the morning of November 22 the Kumamoto city council was scheduled to start a new session, and councilwoman Yuka Ogata arrived early. The 42-year-old mother of two was spotted by reporters outside the building, accompanied by an acquaintance and pushing a stroller in which her seven-month-old son was riding.

Ogata took her seat prior to the time the session was set to begin, holding her son on her lap. However, the unexpected presence of the child quickly drew the attention of other council members, prompting chairman Shosaku Sawada to announce that the starting time would be delayed.

He and Ogata then moved to another room, and after roughly 30 minutes of debate, Ogata acquiesced to turn her child over to her acquaintance before returning to the assembly hall, where the conference eventually began some 40 minutes later than originally scheduled. Sawada opened with an apology for the delay, but a councilman could be heard retorting “You’re not the one who needs to be apologizing.”

▼ Video of the incident, via ANN News

Ogata, who also has a three-year-old daughter, is the first member of the Kumamoto City Council to give birth while in office. After becoming pregnant last April, she says she consulted the council’s secretariat about the possibility of bringing her child with her to the assembly hall, but after being unable to obtain a favorable response, she resolved to bring the child even without any formal blessing or clearance.

Under the city bylaws, any person in the assembly hall while the council is in session who is not a member of the council is classified as an observer, and can be removed for any reason deemed appropriate.

Ogata, a graduate of George Mason in the U.S. and previous United Nations employee who was posted in Yemen, has said:

“By serving as a councilwoman while raising a baby, I hope to be a spokesperson for other people of my generation who are in similar situations…Even though [child-rearing] is a societal problem, in the workplace it ends up being treated as an individual’s problem.”

For his part, Sawada says he hadn’t heard anything about Ogata’s desire to bring her son to work with her. Councilman Kazufumi Onishi, meanwhile, speculated that Ogata’s actions may have been purposely calculated to cause a disturbance and draw attention to the issue, a theory that isn’t entirely far-fetched considering the presence of Ogata’s associate who was ostensibly in attendance for the specific purpose of taking custody of the child, suggesting that Ogata knew she would face opposition.

On-the-street interviews with Kumamoto residents produced a number of reactions, ranging from good-natured support to gruff criticism of the idea of taking an infant somewhere as baby-unfriendly as a government assembly hall. But with a greater proportion of Japanese women in the workforce than ever before, plus the difficulties some families face in finding child care providers, Ogata no doubt has constituents who are happy to know someone on the council is concerned with this issue many modern families are facing.

Source: Sankei West via Jin, YouTube/ANNnewsCH, News 23 via YouTube/Hoa Dinh, YouTube/緒方ゆうかとはぐくむ会
Top image: Pakutaso

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