AP Interview: Tokyo leader vows Olympics, policy leadership

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TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo's first female governor said Monday she will use her platform to host a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly 2020 Olympics and push a women's rights agenda that she hopes will be a model for Japan's central government.

Yuriko Koike, elected in a sweeping victory last month, said in an interview that "reduce, reuse and recycle" of waste and temporary facilities will be her slogan for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. The estimated cost of hosting the Olympics has spiraled.

Because Japan is prone to earthquakes, buildings and even temporary facilities have to be quake-resistant, contributing to the bulging Olympic costs, she said.

"We should focus more on sustainability and credibility in planning the Olympics," Koike told The Associated Press, adding that she will use her expertise as a former environment minister. "The triple-R of reduce, reuse and recycle perfectly fits global sustainability and waste management."

She noted there is a Japanese word that expresses the idea — "mottainai," meaning "what a waste." For instance, Koike said, the idea is demonstrated in the Japanese Shinto tradition of rebuilding the holiest shrine of Ise every 20 years, in which some old materials are reused.

Preparations are under way for the 2020 Olympics, but they have been plagued with problems. An initial main stadium design by an Iraqi-born architect, the late Zaha Hadid, was scrapped because of soaring costs. The official Olympic logo was delayed until this year after an earlier pick was scrapped over plagiarism allegations. Then there was a questionable payment to a Singaporean firm in relation to Tokyo's winning bid.

Construction of the main stadium based on a new design is finally set to start toward the end of this year in Tokyo, which also hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964.

Koike has pledged to examine the swelling costs to avoid saddling taxpayers with debt. She has said the problems resulted from a lack of leadership and transparency.

She is also reviewing a planned relocation of Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market to a site where soil is allegedly contaminated with chemicals. With the relocation linked to the construction of a main road, a delay could affect the Olympics.

A veteran national lawmaker who has held top Cabinet posts including defense minister, Koike said she aims to achieve women's advancement and diversity beyond what the central government has done. She doesn't have a reputation as a feminist activist, however.

The 64-year-old conservative faces challenges from the male-dominated ruling party that she defied to run for governor. Koike had been kept out of the loop under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's leadership.

The percentage of female employees in the Tokyo metropolitan government is already larger than in the national government, Koike said, adding that she will further push for women's advancement as she encourages diversity overall. She said Japanese tolerance of overtime should also be corrected, so that overtime is considered a lack of efficiency.

Koike studied at American University in Cairo and speaks Arabic.

Being Tokyo's governor ahead of the Olympics, she said she can make good use of her unique background, understanding of Islamic culture and her female point of view.

She said she is currently developing a special fabric for female Muslim athletes to use during the Olympics.

"I've always wanted to be someone that people would say, 'you are the only one,'" Koike said.


Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mari-yamaguchi

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