In Japan, a sprightly 94-year-old fights election battle

Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:28am EST
 
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By Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters) - When Ryokichi Kawashima burst into a Tokyo city office to register as a candidate in Japan's parliamentary election, the woman behind the counter first froze, then stuttered: "Are you serious?"

He was. Kawashima had just taken 3 million yen ($36,400) from the sum saved for his funeral and at 94, and just three hours before the deadline, he became the oldest contender for Sunday's election to the lower house of parliament.

"I just felt that now it was my turn," said Kawashima, proudly pointing at his poster on a board in Hanyu, a sleepy town tucked away among rice fields on the fringes of the sprawling Tokyo metropolis.

"It occurred to me when I watched a TV debate between the major parties," he said, speaking in Japanese. "I just couldn't stand how fragmented and disorganized they have become. They have no grip on reality."

The silver-haired Kawashima is an independent, self-financed and his campaign team is mostly family. He acknowledges he has little chance of winning a constituency that is also being contested by candidates from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The LDP is heavily tipped to win the most seats in the election.

But Kawashima, born in the year that marked the end of World War One, represents the most-talked-about and fastest growing part of the Japanese society: the elderly.

Japan has aged at an unprecedented pace over the past three decades and at little over 30 million, those aged 65 or older make up a quarter of the country's population, stretching Japan's annual social security bill to 100 trillion yen.   Continued...

 
Ryokichi Kawashima, a 94-year-old parliamentary election candidate, speaks in front of his election campaign poster on a street during an interview with Reuters in Hanyu, north of Tokyo December 12, 2012. Kawashima took 3 million yen ($36,400) from the sum saved for his funeral and just three hours before the deadline, he became the oldest contender for Sunday's election to the lower house of parliament. Picture taken December 12. To match story JAPAN-ELECTIONS/CANDIDATE REUTERS/Ruairidh Villar