Meet Yuriko Koike, Tokyo’s Arabic-speaking female governor

1 / 2
Governor or Tokyo Yuriko Koike speaking to Arab News journalist Hala Tashkandi.
2 / 2
Yuriko Koike has appeared in cosplay as part of her political campaign, once as Sally from ‘Sally the Witch’ and later as Sapphire from ‘Princess Knight.’
Updated 22 July 2019

Meet Yuriko Koike, Tokyo’s Arabic-speaking female governor

  • The first woman to hold the post sat down with Arab News to talk about female empowerment and what Saudi Arabia can learn from her city
  • While she is serious about her politics, the ‘Lipstick Ninja’ is also not afraid to have fun with cosplay

TOKYO: Yuriko Koike is known as Japan’s Condi Rice or “Lipstick Ninja,” and is everyone’s favorite cosplaying politician. From journalist to minister and finally to governor of Tokyo, Koike is proving that with the right amount of support and resolve, nothing is impossible.

Koike has had a long, illustrious career and shows no signs of slowing down. She has served as a member of Japan’s House of Representatives, environment minister and minister of state for Okinawa and northern territories affairs for former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, and as minister of defense in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.

She earned herself the moniker “Lipstick Ninja” when she joined a group of female candidates on the campaign trail of former Prime Minister Koizumi in September 2005 with the intention of “taking out” his political enemies. Flanked by such names as Satsuki Katayama, a model-turned-bureaucrat, and Makiko Fujino, the “Japanese Martha Stewart,” the media took to calling them Koizumi’s Assassins, or the Lipstick Ninjas.

Most famously, Koike was elected to the office of governor of Tokyo in 2016, the first woman ever to hold the post. However, what sets Koike apart from other Japanese politicians is her education: She studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo, graduating in sociology.

Koike spent five years in Cairo in the 1970s, a time she thinks of fondly. “It was a very rich experience. An unforgettable experience. I didn’t just learn Arabic, I learned about the lifestyle of the people there, about Islamic culture, and I found the experience to be very valuable.”


• First female governor of Tokyo

• Lived in Cairo for five years

• Studied Arabic at the American University of Cairo

• Worked as a journalist and news anchor for TV Tokyo and Nippon TV

• Loves cosplay and anime

She utilized her language skills by becoming an interpreter and a journalist, famously interviewing Arab political figures such as Muammar Qaddafi and Yasser Arafat for Nippon TV. During her time as environment minister in the early 2000s, she used her Arabic once more when working with Arab nations, particularly Egypt, to improve environmental conditions.

After last week’s visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Japan for the G20 summit, Koike sat down with Arab News to speak about the future of female empowerment in the Japanese government, how the city is adapting to societal changes, and most important, how Saudi Arabia could learn from Tokyo’s experiences on both fronts.

As the first female governor of Tokyo, Koike believes that for Japan to grow further female empowerment is needed. “I believe it is indispensable to incorporate female ideas and female politics in order for society to become enriched,” she said.

Koike has long held the belief that women in Japan not only have a “glass ceiling” to contend with, but rather an “iron plate,” in that the challenge before them is greater, almost indestructible, because of traditional beliefs.

Koike ran for president of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2008, saying “I’m not Mrs. Thatcher, but what is needed is a strategy that advances a cause with conviction, clear policies and sympathy with the people.”

Despite coming third, Koike gained a loyal following with many Japanese women, especially for her efforts in bringing female empowerment forward in a typically male-dominated society.

According to the governor, 40% of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government staff members are female. Not only that, but 20% of all TMG staff are females in managerial positions. As for the members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (responsible for enacting and amending prefectural ordinances, voting on administrative appointments made by the governor and approving the budget), 29 percent of those are female, the highest number in Japan. “And they are all elected,” Koike said.

An increase in the number of female assembly members has enabled them to enhance laws that were not taken seriously before, such as child-care policies and smoking prevention measures. Koike thinks that those things, which were ignored or taken lightly, have finally been improved.

“The most important thing I want to convey is that having a female governor, with all these female assembly members in Tokyo, has really helped decision-making and enriched the society of Tokyo,” she said.

Regarding women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia and the changes happening in the country under Vision 2030, Koike said she believes things are moving in the right direction. “The challenge in what is going on in Saudi Arabia is really meaningful to enrich the Saudi culture and Saudi society, to make it richer and more diverse.”

Speaking of Riyadh, Koike said she believes it can easily become a smart city on par with Tokyo. She says it has three things that are required for the development of a city. “As Saudi Arabia has a lot of natural resources, the nation can go in the direction in which Tokyo has been progressing. Saudi Arabia has the ability to meet the three pillars: safety, diversity and smart city technology.”

The governor also spoke about the preparations Tokyo is undergoing to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games, and what Saudi Arabia could learn from the city’s experience.

“When the first Olympics were held in Tokyo in 1964, our focus was on building venues, and facilities such as the Shinkansen (bullet train). This time around, we are putting more emphasis on making these Olympics more accessible and disability-friendly. So for our blind and deaf guests, or our wheelchair-bound guests, we want to create a city where they can comfortably live.

“There is another aspect to this, however: Japanese society is aging. The percentage of the Tokyo population over the age of 65 in 2015 stood at 22.7, projected to rise to 31 percent in 2050. In Saudi Arabia, the number was 3.0 percent in 2015, and will rise to 17.2 percent in 2050. So Saudi Arabia is going to age eventually. Our efforts to make the city more disability-friendly will eventually help our aging society a lot. I think Saudi Arabia can learn from this.”

Due to her achievements, Koike may come across as intimidating, but she definitely knows how to have fun. She has appeared in cosplay at several events, once as Sally from “Sally the Witch” and later, at the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival in 2016, as Sapphire from “Princess Knight.”

Koike addressed the crowd at the opening ceremony, telling them that she was not embarrassed and was determined to pursue the role with all her heart. “Don’t feel ashamed. Get into your role,” she told them.

When asked about the costume, Koike said: “I did cosplay because I wanted to enjoy this popular subculture with the people of Tokyo, and other anime fans in the world, and share the fun of it.”

To close the interview, when asked if she might visit Saudi Arabia in cosplay, Governor Koike said she would think about it. “Insha’Allah,” she said, with a smile.




Disclaimer: The original content was changed and part of the text amended in order to present accurate figures and information. 

Saudi preacher Awad Al-Qarni: Justifier of terror

Updated 23 July 2019

Saudi preacher Awad Al-Qarni: Justifier of terror

  • Saudi critic of Western culture laid the groundwork that turned young Muslims into violent extremists
  • Claimed modern literary works could lead to belief in falsehoods that aim to destroy Islamic teachings

For years Awad Al-Qarni, this week’s preacher of hate, used TV interviews to glorify terrorism, spread conspiracy theories and launch tirades against the West.

His radical views and dogmatic interpretation of religion was criticized in the Saudi press, on social media and by scholars.

But that did not shake his many firm convictions, one of which was that the fight against terrorism was “fabricated” by the West to colonize the East and destroy its way of life.

Born in 1957 and raised in Balqarn governorate in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Asir region, Al-Qarni went on to serve as a professor at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University.

There, long before the emergence of social media, he managed to misguide a large number of followers with his politically charged rhetoric delivered via mosque sermons and after-school programs for youths in the city of Abha.

“Despite the West’s claims of peace since the founding of the League of Nations, and subsequently the UN, the Security Council and organizations everywhere, humanity hasn’t suffered from war, destruction, colonialism, enslavement, confiscation of wealth, intervention in the affairs of nations and peoples, control over their capabilities and wealth, and the overthrow of their regimes and governments, as they suffered in the time of the domination of the West and the time of the Security Council,” Al-Qarni told the anchor of the program “Al-Malaf” on Al-Majd satellite TV channel in January 2017.


The “war on terror”

• “It is one of the tools of the West through which it establishes a new era of colonialism, domination, exploitation and enslavement of peoples as much as it can, without a doubt.”

• “We’re living the biggest lie history has ever known. Many Third World leaders understood these facts and talked about them. Many realized them but few talked about them, like (Nelson) Mandela, (Fidel) Castro, Ahmadu Bello in Nigeria and King Faisal. Therefore, they were assassinated or there were attempts to assassinate them, or they became prisoners or fugitives.”



• “It’s in the West’s interest for (terrorism) to continue. This terrorism doesn’t pose an existential threat to the West and its countries. Three-thousand Americans were killed in a certain operation. All the accumulated evidence proves that the operation was premeditated, fabricated and calculated. ... In a nutshell, it’s in the West’s interest for terrorism to continue in Islamic countries so it can exploit and utilize it.”



• “One of the ideas that has plagued the nation ... is an intellectual doctrine that seeks to destroy everything that is inherited, eliminate everything that is old and revolt against ethics, values and beliefs. This doctrine is called by its preachers and servants of its idols modernism.”

In Al-Qarni’s view, the war on terror is “one of the tools of the West through which it establishes a new era of colonialism, domination, exploitation and enslavement of peoples as much as it can, without a doubt.”

Qainan Al-Ghamdi, a Saudi political analyst, told Arab News that Al-Qarni’s arguments reflect the thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose followers believe that the “West will stop meddling in the affairs of the Middle East only when it’s burned by terrorism.

“They’re certain that any campaign against terrorism threatens their plans and projects.”

That is why these preachers of hate instigated young men to go to warzones in the Middle East, Al-Ghamdi said.

“They did all that they could, through persuasion and offers of financial support, to get young men to travel to warzones and get themselves killed,” he added.

“They think that through this process, the region will end up being only for (the Brotherhood’s followers), so they can achieve their goal of seizing political power.”

Al-Qarni’s vehement opposition to the anti-terror campaign is unsurprising given that he considers Western culture and thought as racist, and based on the rejection or enslavement of the other.

“It runs in their (Westerners’) blood, no matter how they try to deny it. There’s no doubt that there are a number of thinkers, philosophers, reformers and some social strata who tried to be human … But the mainstream of Western thought and culture, represented or served by politicians who try to win them over, is a racist and exclusionary thought that seeks to eliminate others,” Al-Qarni said.

“Their dealings with the Red Indians, the indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand, the African and Muslim peoples are clear.”

In his 1998 book “Modernism in the Balance of Islam: Islamic Perspectives in Literary Modernism,” Al-Qarni identifies modernity as an imminent threat to Muslims.

“One of the ideas that has plagued the nation … is the intellectual doctrine that seeks to destroy everything that is inherited, eliminate everything that is old and revolt against ethics, values and beliefs,” he wrote. 

This doctrine, he said, is called “modernism by its preachers and servants.”

From Al-Qarni’s perspective, “modernism” is an idea that creates great and irreparable damage, and should therefore be resisted.

“Modernism is a subversive idea. The modernists present a destructive vision of the lives of people that includes all its aspects,” he wrote.

“The term ‘modernism’ is an invasion that must be confronted. The basis of modernism is reason and rationality that reject everything that the mind does not perceive.”

As a corollary, Al-Qarni said, modern literary works could lead mankind to believe in falsehoods that aim to destroy Islamic teachings.

Three years after his polemic against modernity was published, Al-Qaeda carried out the Sept. 11 attacks against the US, which left nearly 3,000 people dead and 6,000 injured, and caused damage estimated at $10 billion.

Al-Qarni said the attacks were “fabricated” — the West was exploiting terrorism in Islamic countries for its interest.

In another interview on Al-Majd TV, Al-Qarni declared that the West wanted terrorism to remain, especially because “it doesn’t threaten” Western countries.

“It’s in the West’s interest for (terrorism) to continue. This terrorism doesn’t pose an existential threat to the West and its countries,” he said.

“Three-thousand Americans were killed in a certain operation (9/11). All the accumulated evidence proves that the operation was premeditated, fabricated and calculated.”

Al-Qarni is of the view that terrorist attacks inside the Kingdom are a way for them to claim their ‘right’ to establish control over the country.  Power is their goal.

Al-Qarni asserted that it was not he who was making the claim. “Noam Chomsky said this, and recently a Western scientific engineering institute said the (twin) towers were toppled by a controlled explosion,” Al-Qarni said, falsely attributing the conspiracy theory to the American linguist and social critic.

“It’s in the West’s interest for terrorism to continue in Islamic countries so it can exploit and utilize it.”

Al-Ghamdi said such views are unsurprising given that Al-Qarni believes that acts of violent extremism by Muslims, whether in Saudi Arabia or abroad, are not really terrorism.

“Al-Qarni is of the view that terrorist attacks inside the Kingdom are a way for them to claim their ‘right’ to establish control over the country. Power is their goal,” he said. 

Al-Ghamdi added that Al-Qarni’s antipathy toward the Saudi legal system, among other institutions, is rooted in the Brotherhood’s political philosophy.

“Even though they don’t publicly say it, followers of the Brotherhood don’t recognize the Saudi judiciary,” Al-Ghamdi said.

“Their deviant thoughts and hate-filled views are in sharp contrast to our country’s fair and unbiased laws and regulations.”

In March 2017, Al-Qarni was fined SR100,000 ($27,000) and banned from writing by Riyadh’s Specialized Criminal Court, which handles terrorism cases.

He was convicted for spreading content on Twitter that “could jeopardize public order and provoke public opinion.” However, his political commentary became even more outrageous and provocative. 

In September 2017, along with fellow hate preachers Salman Al-Odah and Ali Al-Omari, Al-Qarni was arrested.

Among other accusations, evidence was presented showing that Al-Qarni was funding the Brotherhood and other extremist jihadist groups in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.