Talk about an aging nation. The number of centenarians rose by 4,124 from a year ago to a high of 65,692 in September, the welfare ministry said Tuesday.
There are almost 52 of them per 100,000 people, with women accounting for 87.6 percent of the total.
The number of centenarians has soared over the past half-century and is projected to grow further, mainly thanks to advances in medical science, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
There were only 153 centenarians in 1963, when officials began compiling comparable data. They exceeded 10,000 in 1998 and topped 30,000 in 2007. The total surpassed 50,000 in 2012 and 60,000 in 2015.
The government has in the past gifted centenarians with silver cups in the prime minister’s name, but from this fiscal year will distribute only silver-plated cups to reduce costs.
This year’s tally is an estimate for Sept. 15, Respect for the Elderly Day. The figure is based on resident registry data as of Sept. 1.
The national holiday has been observed on the third Monday of September since 2003.
There were 8,167 male centenarians, up 327 from the previous year, while female centenarians totaled 57,525, up 3,797.
It is projected that 31,747 people will enter the group this fiscal year.
The nation’s oldest woman is Nabi Tajima, 116, born in August 1900. She hails from the town of Kikai, Kagoshima Prefecture.
The oldest man is Masamitsu Yoshida, 112, born in May 1904, a resident of Ota Ward, Tokyo.
Tajima lives in a nursing facility in Kikai. She uses a wheelchair but is otherwise healthy and eats three times a day.
Blessed with seven sons and two daughters, she has 19 descendents living in the town who often visit her.
“I think having balanced meals and eating well are the keys to living long,” said Tajima’s 52-year-old granddaughter.
Nationwide in 2015, life expectancy was 87.1 years for women and 80.8 for men.
Shimane Prefecture had the highest ratio of centenarians, at 96.25 per 100,000 people, while Saitama Prefecture had the lowest, at 30.97.
Experts said the discrepancies reflect population shrinkage in rural areas amid migration to cities.