Voters in Tokyo’s Setagaya City have just elected Uzbek-born businesswoman Orzugul Babakhodjaeva to city council, on a platform of changing Japan toward greater kindness and inclusivity, starting from her city. After a long, difficult journey to her current life in Japan, she felt moved to run because of her love for her adopted home. Here’s an introduction to this fascinating freshman politician.
Born in Tashkhent in 1985, Babakhodjaeva (hereafter Orzugul, as she ran under her given name) had her first encounter with Japan at age 13, when she fell in “love at first sight” with hiragana. Despite having to work part-time starting from age 16 in order to support her mother and birth family, Orzugul has been studying Japanese since age 14. She first put that skill to work as a guide and interpreter for Japanese tourists visiting Uzbekistan.
Orzugul– also known by her nickname of Oru-chan– is not the first political figure in her family. Her grandfather, Dr. Abdusamad Babakhodjaev, was a historian who served as a Soviet Uzbek politician. In 1950, during the 5th session of the UN, he was part of the Soviet delegation headed by Yakov Malik. He was also the first Uzbek diplomat to speak from that organization’s rostrum.
Political Aspirations Borne of Adversity
Meanwhile, in present-day Setagaya, Orzugul ran– and won– as part of the Constitutional Democratic Party (立憲民主党; Rikken Minshutō). On her homepage appear the words Because I love Japan so deeply, I cannot stay silent (Nihon no koto daisuki dakara damatte irarenai). It is slogan borne of discrimination and difficulty she faced, both for being a woman as well as for being foreign-born.
After moving to Japan at age 21, she had a difficult time finding work. She applied to 54 different companies before one hired her.
Later, after moving to Russia with her Japanese husband for 3 years for his work, she returned to Tokyo in hopes of starting her own wine bar. Because she was a foreigner, it took a long time to find a realtor willing to rent her a business space. She only managed to do so, ultimately, with the mediation of Japanese friends who could vouch for her.
She had been running her bar for three years before her election. She was also managing director of an LLC called Y Company. Orzugul has also appeared on Japanese TV, including in commercials. But her difficulties in making a life in Japan– from finding work to renting property– were a catalyst for her political aspirations.
A Progressive Platform
“Because I faced unimaginable challenges growing up after the USSR’s collapse as the daughter of a single mother,” Orzugul says on her campaign website, she wants to bring real solutions and relief to single-parent families and others who are isolated or crushed by societal pressure in Setagaya.
Orzugul’s electoral platform had three major pillars. First, celebrating and promoting greater acceptance of diversity in Setagaya: the elderly, the young, LGBTQ voices, and foreign residents. Second, ensuring that women’s voices are better represented in government. Finally, building a Setagaya that is more welcoming of minorities.
After campaigning across Setagaya, she won her election to Setagaya City Council following the recent local elections on April 23, 2023, with a vote count placing her at 9th in a field of 75 candidates and 50 winners. 4th in the same local race was Kamikawa Aya. Kamikawa, a multi-term Setagaya councilwoman, is one of Japan’s first out trans politicians. The day following her victory, Orzugul tweeted
I have been elected to Setagaya City Council with 6771 votes. It is thanks to all of you. Today I went to the Setagaya City Hall to receive a certification of my election I greatly treasure each and every one of the votes with which I have been entrusted. I will work to change my beloved Japan from Setagaya City.
The newly inaugurated councilwoman Orzugul began her term on 1 May. She posted the following to her Twitter that day.
“Today, May 1, is the beginning of my term as a Setagaya City Councilwoman. I took this commemorative photo of the first time I wore my council member’s badge to city hall.”
As she continues a family tradition of political service, we look forward with great interest to how she will make positive change for Japan, starting from Setagaya.
- Oruzuguru: Setagaya-ku Seisaku iin. Accessed 8 May 2023.
- “Jichitai giin ikki, Setagaya-ku Gikai: Oruzuguru.” Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Accessed 8 May 2023.
- “Senkyo Kekka (Kaihyō Kekka) Setagaya Ku Gikai Giin Senkyo” 24 April 2023. Setagaya City. Accessed 8 May 2023.
- “Uzbekistan Shusshin Bijin Tarento Oruzuguru shi, Setagaya-ku gi Hatsutōsen Hōkoku Senkyo Posutaa itazura higai norikoe” Sponichi Annex, 25 April 2023, archived by Yahoo Japan. Accessed 8 MAy 2023.