Centenarians in Japan soon to exceed 30,000 for first time

Kyodo News

The number of Japanese aged 100 years or older is expected to top 30,000 by the end of the month for the first time since record-keeping began in 1963, according to a health ministry survey.

By October there will be a record 32,295 centenarians in Japan, up 3,900 from a year ago, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Friday ahead of Respect for the Aged Day, which will be observed this Monday.

Women continue to make up the vast majority of centenarians, accounting for 85.7 percent, the second-highest on record since the 86.9 percent recorded in 1963.

This year, there will be a record 27,682 centenarian women, up 3,437 from last year, and a record 4,613 centenarian men, up by 463.

On Sept. 1, the ministry tallied the number of people in the nation’s 47 prefectures who are already or expected to be centenarians by the end of the month.

The oldest man is Tomoji Tanabe of Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, who will turn 112 on Tuesday. In January, Tanabe was listed as the world’s oldest male by the Guinness Book of Records and received its certificate in June.

The oldest woman is Tsuneyo Toyonaga of Tano, Kochi Prefecture, who is 113.

By prefecture, Okinawa has the largest proportion of centenarians with 57.89 per 100,000 people, maintaining the top position for the 35th straight year.

It was followed by Kochi, Shimane, Kumamoto and Ehime prefectures, with the top three maintaining their same positions since 2002.

Saitama Prefecture has the lowest proportion with 13.05 per 100,000 people, staying last for the 18th year in a row, followed by Aichi, Chiba, Aomori and Kanagawa prefectures.

The ministry also said that a record 17,778 people will reach 100 by the end of the current fiscal year through March 31, 2008. That’s up by about 2,400 from the previous fiscal year, it said.

There were 153 centenarians in Japan in 1963. But that eventually rose to 1,000 in 1981 and passed 10,000 in 1998. The numbers for centenarian men have set records for 27 consecutive years, while those for the women have broken records for 37 years in a row.

Tanabe has been in good health and has a healthy appetite. He surprised Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru with his vitality when the governor paid a courtesy call Tuesday.

“I am alive today thanks to all of you. I appreciate it,” Tanabe said.

Tanabe lives with his fifth son and his son’s wife. Although he is hard of hearing, he can do most of the things needed to look after himself.

The secret of good heath is not to smoke or drink, according to Tanabe. He has a daily routine of keeping a diary and reading a newspaper.

Tanabe raised a total of eight children and has more than 50 great-grandchildren.

“Some say that a man can live up to 125. But I want him to go far beyond that limit,” said the Miyazaki governor, who also hails from Miyakonojo.

Meanwhile, Toyonaga lives in a nursing home in Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture, after five children. She was good at needlework and used to make kimonos for her neighbors.

Now she is a popular dweller at the facility.