Japan candidate, 94, runs for 'the weak'

2012-12-14 10:02
Ryokichi Kawashima (L), a 94-year-old candidate for the 16 December general election speaks to voters for his election campaign at Hanyu city in Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo. (Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP)

Ryokichi Kawashima (L), a 94-year-old candidate for the 16 December general election speaks to voters for his election campaign at Hanyu city in Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo. (Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP)

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Hanyu - A 94-year-old man who cashed in his funeral savings to use as an election deposit was out canvassing for votes on Friday, just two days ahead of Japan's general election.

Ryokichi Kawashima is the oldest candidate in the race for the lower house this Sunday and says he felt he had to get involved in politics to stop the younger generation making such a mess of things.

"I'm running on behalf of the weak," Kawashima, one of 1 504 candidates vying for 480 seats in the House of Representatives, said in Hanyu, north of Tokyo on Friday.

He said he had been motivated to come out of retirement by worries over right-leaning candidates like former conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe and former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who is 80 years old.

"The words 'armed forces' pop out of their mouths freely," he told the Sports Hochi daily last week.

"We surrendered unconditionally in the war. I was worried about what has become of Japan," said the veteran of World War II, who spent seven years on the frontline in China, where he saw fellow soldiers killed.

$36 000

"I didn't die in the war and I've had a lot of good times since. If I'd just gone on this way, I would feel guilty towards my comrades who died," said Kawashima, who worked as an oven seller, a dealer in securities and bonds and held many other jobs before his retirement.

Kawashima says his eyesight and mind are both still sharp for his battle against five candidates from established political parties.

He has withdrawn $36 000 from his savings to use as the deposit required for candidates in national elections.

"I've saved my pension money as expenses for my own funeral," said Kawashima who lives alone.

"Honestly speaking, I may not [be] able to win but I want to state my case."

Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, with more than 23% of people aged 65 or over, government figures show. In 50 years, that will rise to 40%.

Many senior figures on the country's political scene are older than their counterparts in other developed nations, including Ishihara, aged 80, the leader of the Japan Restoration Party and former governor of Tokyo.

The youngest candidate in this Sunday's poll is Kazuya Aoki, aged 24, a former aide to a member of parliament.

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