Photo/IllutrationToshisuke Kanazawa shows off his well-toned body on June 15 in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward. (Koichi Ueda)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

HIROSHIMA--When the 81-year-old man removed his shirt, he revealed a rippling six-pack, thick arms with rivers of bulging veins, and pectoral muscles that you could bounce a coin off of.

Toshisuke Kanazawa, who is also “proud of my legs,” removed his trousers to show off his veiny thighs the size of tree trunks.

A multiple champion bodybuilder in his younger days, Kanazawa overcame a decadent period of flabbiness to regain and retain his sculptured physique in his later years. His motivation was to “please” his wife.

“I am a poor old man who devotes myself entirely to strengthening my body,” Kanazawa said jokingly, while flexing his biceps. “It is a fate for those who are determined to take the top spot in one field.”

He has won Japan’s national bodybuilding championship 12 times overall, including in age-specific categories. The octogenarian’s well-toned muscles still can impress judges and crowds at world competitions.

Kanazawa was born in Shimane Prefecture in 1936.

As a senior high school student, he competed in a 1,500-meter freestyle race at a prefectural swimming meet.

Although he failed to claim victory in the pool, he won over spectators with his well-developed upper body.

Kanazawa had long dreamed of becoming “No. 1 in Japan” in any area. After brainstorming (and dropping swimming from the equation), he concluded that he could excel at building mass and creating the best balance with his muscles.

At the age of 20, he started pumping iron. He remodeled his home in Hiroshima into a gym, where he trained for six hours a day.

In his fifth year as a bodybuilder in 1960, Kanazawa won his first national bodybuilding championship.

But being the best in Japan was not enough. He wanted to challenge the world’s top bodybuilders.

The young Kanazawa used his contacts to train with American servicemen in a well-equipped gym at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in neighboring Yamaguchi Prefecture.

He initially had difficulty communicating in English. When he would slip up and say, for example, “I am pen,” other trainees would laugh.

But his English skills improved so drastically that he eventually befriended Americans at the gym.

In the world championships in both 1967 and 1969, Kanazawa took the No. 4 spot, falling just short of the podium.

He gave up his dream of winning international competitions and retired as a bodybuilder at the age of 34.

After retirement, Kanazawa stopped his strenuous exercising, drank heavily, smoked cigarettes and devoured anything he feasted his eyes on.

Every time looked at his flabby belly in the mirror after bathing at a golf club, Kanazawa sighed, asking himself, “Is this really the body of a former national champion?”

But he continued to let his body go.

When he was about to turn 50, his wife frequently became ill. He remembered that she was the happiest of all people when he won the national championship.

At 50, he resumed serious training to “become Japan’s best bodybuilder again to please” his wife.

First, he had to change his lifestyle and get rid of his gut.

He quit smoking and drinking. And he stopped eating meat and fish, which are difficult to digest and absorb.

Kanazawa turned to a regular diet of unpolished rice, “natto” fermented soybeans and miso soup with eggs, as well as protein supplements.

To keep regular hours, Kanazawa still goes to bed at 11:30 p.m. and gets up at 7 a.m.

But he could not turn back the clock.

In his younger days, his body would recover within two days of an intense training session. That was no longer possible, so he changed his regimen in the gym.

Instead of his six-hour grinds, he spent three hours a day separately training every part of his body, and allotted one week for recovery.

To get rid of his wrinkly skin, he started applying oil derived from horses to his body after bathing. His firm skin is now one of his strengths, and contest judges highly appreciate it, according to Kanazawa.

In 1994, Kanazawa won the Japanese championship in the category for those aged 50 or older. In fact, he took the top spot in Japan on three occasions before his wife died in 2003.

His lifestyle changes also had unexpected effects. He has never caught a cold or been injured since he resumed bodybuilding at 50. Pain in the knees or elbows and stiff shoulders are also rarities for him.

His mind is also healthy. As well as his “guns,” Kanazawa is not shy about showing off his puns.

“‘Kega nai’ (no injuries) but ‘ke ga aru’ (have hair),” he says.

In 2016, Kanazawa placed sixth in the world contest for bodybuilders 65 years or older. He was 80 at the time. He received a special gold medal as the oldest competitor, and also a standing ovation from the crowd.

Kanazawa opened the Hiroshima Training Center in 1965 while working at a medical equipment manufacturer in the city. The center has been taken over by his eldest son, and Kanazawa currently provides advice to users of the gym.

Asked about his current goal, Kanazawa said he wants to continue bodybuilding until he turns 85.

“I want to be a super old man in the bodybuilder community while squarely facing my physical decline,” he said. “If I have a goal, I can continue moving forward. I have to work much harder.”