The number of centenarians in Japan will set a new record of 25,606 by the end of the month, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said ahead of Respect for the Aged Day.

This means more than 2,568 people will have joined the centenarian club since this time last year.

Women continue to make up the vast majority of centenarians, accounting for 85 percent, and topping 20,000 for the first time.

For the first time, there will be more than 20 centenarians per 100,000 people — at 20.05, precisely — making up one in every 5,000 people.

Yone Minagawa from Akaike, Fukuoka Prefecture, is the oldest person in Japan, at 112. The oldest man is 110-year-old Nijiro Tokuda from the city of Kagoshima. He is the nation’s 13th-oldest person.

When the government first started counting centenarians in Japan in 1963, there were only 153. That grew to more than 1,000 by 1981, and soared to 10,000 in 1998.

In the past year, the number has grown at a rate of more than 10 percent over the preceding year, according to ministry officials.

By prefecture, Okinawa has the largest concentration of centenarians, with 51.43 per 100,000 people, and has claimed the top position for the 33rd straight year. Saitama has the lowest, with 9.81 per 100,000.

For the whole of fiscal 2005, which ends next March 31, a record 12,703 people, including 34 who live outside Japan, are expected to join the ranks of Japan’s centenarians, up 792 from the previous year, according to the ministry.

That group is expected to have 2,142 men and 10,561 women, with the women finally breaking the 10,000 barrier.

Minagawa lives in Keijuen, a special nursing home in her native Akaike. After her husband died, she raised her five children by selling flowers and vegetables at a coal mine.

Minagawa, who became the oldest person in the nation in April, sometimes makes others laugh with lighthearted jokes. She loves festive occasions and attends birthday parties and other recreational events at the nursing home, staff said. She eats well every day at the cantina and reads newspapers and letters from her family.

“She is aging in an excellent way. She is respected by our staff and other residents of the facility,” said Shigeko Tachibana, head of the nursing home.

In April, she was told she had become the oldest person in the country.

Tokuda lives in the care house Sakura no Sono in the city of Kagoshima. Although he has been using a walking aid since fracturing his foot about 10 years ago, he continues to be an avid photographer and shot pictures of a local summer festival this year using a camera he’s owned for 20 or more years.

Tokuda walks to the facility’s cantina three times a day. He also went out in a wheelchair early last Friday to vote for the general election.

Asked about the secrets of longevity, he said, “It is important not to strain yourself. You can live a long life if you stay quiet and calm.”

Pair do the math: oldest

KUMAMOTO (Kyodo) A 107-year-old man and his 100-year-old wife in Kumamoto Prefecture may be the world’s oldest couple, surpassing by a few days another Japanese couple who were planning to get official recognition from Guinness World Records.

The combined ages of Nisaburo and Yae Semba is greater than the total age of Yoichi Gomi, 104, and Kazono, 103, in Kanagawa Prefecture.

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