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Q&A with Eiko Kimura 木村英子様との質疑応答

Q&A with Eiko Kimura, disabled politician and Upper House member of The Diet in Japan


Graphic showing a picture of Eiko Kimura, a Japanese woman in a wheelchair. She has long black hair and wearing a navy jacket and a white shirt. A beige blanket is on her lap. On the right in Japanese 参議院議員 木村英子is text translated: Upper House Member (or member of the House of Councillors), Kimura Eiko.
Graphic showing a picture of Eiko Kimura, a Japanese woman in a wheelchair. She has long black hair and wearing a navy jacket and a white shirt. A beige blanket is on her lap. On the right in Japanese 参議院議員 木村英子is text translated: Upper House Member (or Member of the House of Councillors), Kimura Eiko.

Disabled people all over the world are engaged politically and making a difference. I have been following Eiko Kimura’s career for some years now and am delighted to have a chance to learn more about her advocacy. Deep gratitude to my friends Seiko Takada and Adam Hartzell for reaching out to Ms. Kimura and translating the interview for me!


For more about Eiko, go to her website:


Please tell me a little about yourself and your personal background!


EIKO: I became disabled when I was 8 months old and spent most of my childhood in a nursing home and school for disabled children. Back then, if you were severely disabled, your only option was a nursing home if your family members couldn’t take care of you.

But after I learned about Kinuko Mitsui, who was also severely disabled, but living in the community independently, I refused to live at a nursing home and decided to live independently at Kunitachi-city, Tokyo. [Translator’s note: although most non-Japanese tend to perceive Tokyo as a “city”, it is actually a “prefecture,” the equivalent to a “state” in the US. As a result, some are surprised that the city of Tokyo has more cities nested within it such as the aforementioned city Kunitachi.] I was nineteen years old.

In 1994, I established JIRITSU Station TSUBASA (Independent Station Wing) in Tama-city, helping disabled people who want to live in the community independently.

I also work as a general secretary at National Public Long-term Care Claimant Association. It’s been 36 years since I started a movement for long-term care security for Tokyo city government and Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to improve this society where it is so hard for severely disabled people to live.

And last July, I ran for House of Councillors election wanting to change this seriously problematic society where disabled peoples’ lives are not even protected unless you take action. And I was elected.

In The National Diet [Japan’s equivalent to the US Congress, from henceforth just “The Diet”], I am affiliated with the Land Transport Committee and I advocate from a severely disabled person’s perspective. I have achieved things like gaining 6 seats for wheelchair users on bullet trains when it was previously only 1 or 2 seats.

I am working to make this society easily accessible for disabled people because I believe that’s the kind of society that’s easier for everyone to live in.






When did you first become politicized and involved in advocacy?


EIKO: As I experienced so many barriers for disabled people growing up, I started to become politically conscious around the age of 20 and began advocating to change this society.



What are some major disability rights issues in Japan?


EIKO: I am focusing my answer more on the reason why we need a disability rights movement. One of the problems is, if you need full-time support, you are set to live in an environment completely separated from “non-disabled people.”

Therefore, quite a few disabled people go to nursing homes for the rest of their lives after graduating from special schools.

I grew up in a nursing home up until I was 18 since I was born disabled. It was very difficult for me to adjust to society since I did not acquire social skills growing up. Even after 36 years, I still suffer from the disadvantage of being separated from society.

In order for disabled people to have the same rights as non-disabled people, Japan established the Disability Discrimination Elimination Law in 2016. It is essential to get necessary rights for disabled people as soon as possible.

In particular, Japan needs to establish a guaranteed system for all social participation like working, schooling, various lessons, leisure activities. In addition, disabled people in Japan need easy access to public transportation without being denied access because of their disability. I want to make improvements to these discriminating barriers (mental, psychological, and emotional) that disabled people experience.






In July 2019 you were elected into the Upper House as a member of the Reiwa Shinsengumi party. What led you to decide to run for office and what was the campaigning process like?


EIKO: We severely disabled people don’t stay in nursing homes by choice. That’s the only place we can go. A lot of families ended up sending us to nursing homes because they are exhausted from taking care of us everyday. Some of them became ill from fatigue. It is not uncommon that they commit a family suicide or end up killing their disabled child when they couldn’t send them to a nursing home.

My case wasn’t exceptional. Our government puts all the responsibility for a disabled child on the family, isolating both the child and the family. Severely disabled people have no way of getting out of the nursing home because our government does not make it possible for disabled people to be able to live in the community.

I do not wish to go back to nursing home. That thought makes me desperate to live in the community. But this situation of living in the community is very uncertain.

Currently, the labor shortage is a huge problem and care work is no exception. For a while, nursing care establishments would send some helpers so we didn’t have to send out flyers on the street to get helpers.

But it didn’t last long. Things are going back to the way it used to be. We spent a good amount of money to submit a job offer for care workers, but almost no one applies.

Also, disabled people’s long-term care guarantee has become integrated with the long-term care insurance system. In disability welfare, the guarantee of long-term care that suits each individual’s situation is not sufficient.  But depending on the municipality, there are places where it is guaranteed 24 hours a day.

As for the long-term care insurance system, it is decided uniformly rather than tailoring to each individual’s needs. Meaning, each municipality is trying to reduce the time provided for long-term care for persons with disabilities using the long-term care insurance system. The lifestyle I’ve been trying to establish here has been slowly destroyed.

Because of this I thought, I had to do something about this horrible situation where my independent lifestyle I worked so hard to make happen is being taken away.

Then, Mr. Yamamoto Taro [Translator’s note: founder of Reiwa Shinsengumi who many outside Japan know from his roles in movies such as Battle Royale where he played Shogo Kawada], asked me if I could fight together to represent the voice of the party in The Diet…so I decided to join. To be honest, I had anxiety since my disability is severe, but if I miss this chance, I could see a more dire situation for the severely disabled to deal with. So I decided to go to the election at the risk of my life.








For people unaware of the Reiwa Shinsengumi party, please describe its values and priorities and why you are affiliated with this party compared to other political parties.


EIKO: The reason why I decided to run for Reiwa Shinsengumi is Mr. Yamamoto had a natural common sense. What I mean by that is he asked me, an actual person who has a disability, to participate in politics to change this society that’s really hard for disabled people because he doesn’t have a disability and doesn’t know much about disabled people’s lives. I was shocked to hear that because I’ve never met any congressman who said such things. That was a clincher.




In November of 2019 you participated in a Q&A session in The Diet at a meeting for the Upper House Land & Transport Committee. It was the first time a disabled lawmaker plus her personal assistant asked a question at a Diet session. Can you tell me about the issues you raised during that session?

-2019年の11月に、木村様は参院国土交通委員会で初の質疑応答セッションに参加されました。それは身体障害を持つ議員と、そのアシスタントが国会で初めて意見を述べた大事なセッションだったと思います。 その時に木村様が提示された問題点を教えてください

EIKO: There are a lot of social barriers for disabled people. I raise issues that can be asked by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism committee. The first one is how difficult it is for disabled people to utilize multipurpose toilets because they are often used by non-disabled people. Also how the bathroom space is not designed for big wheelchair users.



What are some other issues you are deeply passionate about that you want to advocate for as a member of The Diet? 


EIKO: To create the infrastructure and environment where disabled and non-disabled people can interact with each other equally. Disabled people are a minority and have less opportunity to engage in the political process. I would like facilities to provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities so they can participate equally in various meetings such as policy making.




What are some accessibility barriers you face as a physically disabled member of The Diet? 


EIKO: Since the Japanese long-term care system is limited only for personal care at home, such as toilet, meals, taking a bath, etc), we’ve been prohibited from participating in social events like going to school, working and going outside for a long time. Therefore, I faced a lot of social discrimination since I was unable to participate in many Diet activities because I couldn’t come to The Diet.

The press conference on July 26th was unforgettable because after the winning certificate awarding ceremony, I appealed to The Diet that  I can’t come to work as a representative if I am cut off from severe home-visit care. It is a problem that I can’t work in The Diet, but more importantly, taking away care workers from severely disabled people means our guarantee of life is cut and that really scared me. At that moment, I felt a strong resentment for what this country has become.

I was debating if I should go join The Diet. Then I decided to join The Diet on August 1st, determined to improve the enhancement of long-term care coverage necessary for persons with disabilities as a policy, including working, schooling, and other social participation such as severe home-visit care. I am determined to improve the right to life for persons with disabilities.





Since coming into office, what kinds of supports and accommodations do you require in order to do your job effectively?


EIKO: As for the election campaign, they gave me various considerations, such as preparing a sloped stand while I was giving a speech, and preparing the lift in speeches on the truck. Also they made a schedule that took into consideration my physical condition, not requiring me to campaign for extended hours in a day.


Are there any funding issues or challenges regarding services or changes to the built environment that you need as an elected official? 


EIKO: As for the party, it is covered by campaign activities and donations, including the fact that persons with disabilities are going to the elections. As for The Diet, since a person with a severe disability became a member of The Diet for the first time, the House of Councillors has enacted budgets in various places such as installing slopes and securing space for the meeting place, making it barrier-free.



Both you & Yasuhiko Funago became the first two disabled members of The Diet in 2019. Can you reflect on the significance of this and your thoughts about more disabled people in politics at the local and national level? What do you hope to see from future generations? 


EIKO: There was a blind member of the Diet, so we were not the first disabled members, just the first members with disabilities which require constant medical care. [Translator’s note: there actually have been 3 visibly disabled members prior to Kimura and Funago. There have been 2 blind members, Masatoshi Takagi & Toshikazu Hori, and a wheelchair user, Eita Yashiro.]

Currently in Japan, there is not enough security guaranteed for all people with disabilities, not only severely disabled people, to participate in social activities. It is important for disabled people to become members of The Diet so they can arrange reasonable accommodation for disabled people and to spread the barrier-free perspective to create community living society.


Why is it important for disabled people everywhere to get involved in their communities & participate in the political process such as voting or public service?


EIKO: In Japan, there is still no guaranteed system for disabled people to participate in social and political activities. I want to improve that so we can live in a society where both disabled and non-disabled people can live together.



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