Japan is older than ever before. On this year’s Respect for the Aged Day, celebrated Sept. 19, the number of Japanese centenarians topped 47,000, the largest number on record. After the disasters of this year, the large number of centenarians in the country presents a picture of hope for a healthy life with the chance to grow into the wisdom of old age.

The survey was conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry with greater care this year, since last year’s survey revealed that pension payments were being made to elderly people with no trace of their registered addresses.

Overall, of course, Japan has continued to age. People over the age of 65 now make up a record 23.3 percent of the population, nearly 30 million people, based on data from the 2010 census. Just fewer than 9 million people in Japan are 80 or older.

As in past years, the number of women centenarians is much higher than men. Of the total, just over 41,000 are women and roughly 6,000 men, the highest rate of women to men (87.1 percent) since the survey began.

Worldwide, women live an average five years longer than men, but the vast disparity in Japan deserves consideration. Scientists have researched many possible causes, genetics, stress, risky behavior and emotional balance, but none has proved decisive. Perhaps a survey asking the 41,000 women centenarians might find the best answer.

The survey also found that the elderly are just as important a part of the economy and society as ever before. Another survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry found that of those aged 65 to 69, nearly half of men and one-fourth of women were still working.

The survey also found that they have significantly higher savings — ¥22.75 million on average compared with ¥13.5 million for households headed by people younger than 65.

The holiday giving respect to the aged is always the time to re-emphasize that the elderly are an asset and a source of richness, both material and social, rather than a burden.

Like the rest of society, the elderly deserve better accommodation, improved services and better integration into the community.

To live to be 100 is not so easy, but it is an achievement deserving respect and support.

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