Heizaburo and Reiko Kawaguchi


Heizaburo and Reiko Kawaguchi, 84 and 81, from Kobe, believe that simple meals and large servings of complex ideas from Japanese manga, anime and classical literature pave the way to a long and happy life. Trained as a fukuryu (underwater kamikaze diver), and later head of a 300-year-old family business until 1997, when the government lifted restrictions that had limited the sale of salt to just a few dozen privileged families around the nation, Heizaburo now has plenty of time to devote to books and his wife. Married for 59 years, with two children, three grandchildren and six great grandchildren, the couple hope to spend a lot more time together.

Reiko: Parents know their children well, so they know how to pick the best partner for them. Ours is an arranged marriage. Our parents spent a long time checking the other’s background to make sure we would make a successful pair. Thanks to them, we are.

Reiko: The end of the war accelerated the modernization of Japanese culture. For example, before we were married, we were allowed to meet three times in the presence of our families, not just once as couples before, and we could exchange our own fans to express our desire to get married, which had been the parents’ right to do so before the war.

Heizaburo: I couldn’t imagine Japan would lose the war, but I didn’t think Japan would win either. For me, to win a war meant to take the enemy’s capital and negotiate, but we couldn’t go as far as Washington, so when it became obvious that it was impossible for Japan to win, I thought everybody in Japan would continue fighting until we all died. It seemed natural.

Reiko: During the war, crazy things seemed normal. Our school was converted into a factory to produce airplane wings out of cloth, like the material that tents are made of. To make the cloth more durable, we painted it with boiled konnyaku, a devil’s tongue starch. Now it seems clear that such toy planes were doomed, but back then we believed they could fly high.

Heizaburo: People can be made to believe anything. Japanese made fu-sen bakudan, or balloon bombs, out of washi paper, glued together with potato starch, and used the jet stream to float them across the Pacific Ocean. An even more incredible and tragic invention was fukuryu, an ocean kamikaze diver unit that tried to attack U.S. ships with mines attached to bamboo sticks. Just think how many lives were lost in the preparations alone.

Heizaburo: Live a simple life and always be humble. We like Yen Hui, a favorite disciple of Confucius, who ate a handful of millet and drank a gourdful of water, and was always cheerful. I am happy with a banana and curry rice.

Reiko: Behave yourself, even if nobody sees you. Do not sit with your legs open, don’t do anything shameful, even if you are alone. There is no escaping your own conscience.

Heizaburo: The pursuit of fun before anything else creates weak people. At school, teachers kept asking our grandchildren if they were enjoying the lessons. They were, but the tougher lessons taught in our day helped develop strong character in people.

Heizaburo: Manga and anime are as great as our classics. Comic books and cartoons transport me to the world of imagination, even at this age. I have more than 5,000 editions, and sometimes buy the same books twice by mistake. I read them with great pleasure, and only when I go to find their spot on the shelf do I realize that I already have them.

Reiko: Spending money on education and helping one’s family is honorable, but shopping for brands is not very intelligent. The time one wastes in department stores would be better spent reading.

Heizaburo: Things that cost lots of money and make no profit make up a nation’s real assets. In the past, Japan used to put so much importance on culture. Now, the emphasis is on making a quick buck, so culture is losing out.

Reiko: Having children is a blessing — and so is not having them. No matter what happens, think of it as being for the best.

Heizaburo: Beauty is on the inside. We always adopt dogs from the animal shelter, and if we have a choice between a cute one and a less outwardly attractive one, we pick the one that others might not want. Our Shiba mix, Princess Prin, barks a lot, but we still find her adorable.