Usually when you hear about a fresh-faced new voice in politics, it’s usually, well, a fresh face. Not so much with Ryukichi Kawashima, who is running for office for the first time at the ripe old age of 94.
Kawashima is running to represent Saitama Prefecture’s 12th District and is the oldest candidate out of the 1,504 people running in the current election. He had been putting aside money from his pension to use for his own funeral expenses, but decided the 3 million yen (about US$36,000) would be better spent as an election fund. Deep concern over the future of the country motivated him to run, he says. “I thought it was time I did something.”
Although he’s edging up on the century mark, Kawashima still boasts sharp eyesight and an even sharper mind. Despite originally having no intention whatsoever of becoming a politician, Kawashima, an independent, found himself frustrated as he listened to the policies of the political parties.
“Listening to rightist politicians like Abe and Ishihara, the word “military” keeps popping up. Hashimoto is also completely unreasonable. We surrendered unconditionally after the war! I began to worry what would become of Japan,” he says, speaking in his rapid-fire way.
Born in 1918 at the close of the First World War, Kawashima was just old enough to be conscripted in World War II. He fought in China, losing many of his comrades over his seven-year stint there. “Of course, I’m happy that I didn’t die in the war,” he says, “But at the same time, I feel guilty towards all my friends who did.”
The responsibility he feels towards those lost men is what convinced him to run for office. At the end of last month, he gathered his relatives at his house and announced his candidacy. Although some of them were initially against the idea, he won them over with his passion. “It would be nice to have the help of my friends too, but they’ve all passed away already,” he comments.
Over the years, Kawashima worked in many fields, from kitchen stove sales to securities and bonds trading. Now retired, he lives by himself in Saitama’s Hanyu City. His back is still straight and his gait strong, and thanks to his training in the army, he can cook and clean for himself.
Saitama’s 12th District is likely to be a hotly contested battle, with several major party candidates making strong bids, but that doesn’t discourage the aged politician. “I don’t honestly expect to win,” he says, “but I want to try.”
Kawashima’s platform includes adherence to Article 9, an end to nuclear power, and an increased leadership role for the emperor. His entry to the race is a bit late, but he’s already hard at work producing flyers and posters for his campaign, and he has plans to make some street-corner speeches as well.
Despite his age and lack of political experience, nothing is going to stop Kawashima from giving it his best shot, “A real man, he does what he’s gotta do.”