A Japanese woman celebrated her 117th birthday on Sunday, extending her record as the oldest living person in the world. Kane Tanaka celebrated the milestone with a party and cake at her nursing home in Fukuoka.

Ms Tanaka’s life spans Japanese history.

She was born prematurely in 1903, the seventh child of eight. 

Kane Tanaka seated, left. Image: Guinness.

Kane Tanaka seated, left. Image: Guinness.

In 1922, she married Hideo Tanaka, aged only 19. Despite having never met her husband when they married, the couple went on to have four children, and adopted a fifth.

Ms Tanaka worked in the family business, polishing rice and making rice cakes. 

Her first son fought in WWII, and was held captive by the Russians, only returning to Japan in 1947.

To pass her time in the nursing home, Ms Tanaka studies mathematics and plays games.

Ms Tanaka was recognised as the oldest living person by Guinness World Records on 9 March 2019, when she was 117 years and 66 days.

Why do people live so long in Japan?

Japanese people are well known for their longevity. Japan’s life expectancy is 84.0 years, compared with 78.7 for the United States, 76.2 for China, and 82.5 for Australia.

The Japanese population’s low-calorie diet, which is high in fish, whole grains, vegetables and tofu, is believed to a major contributor to their long lifespans.

Kane Tanaka with family members. Image: Guinness.

Kane Tanaka with family members. Image: Guinness.

Japan also has an excellent healthcare system. It has a public/private hybrid model, in which the government pays at least 70 per cent of most procedures, more if you are on a low income.

The Japanese are also known for their healthy lifestyle. For example, 98 per cent of Japanese children walk or cycle to school.

After World War II, Japan had one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, so it’s not likely their longevity is related to genetics.

More than 70,000 centenarians in Japan

Ms Tanaka’s record is a sign of demographic changes in Japan. Late last year, the Japanese government revealed that Japan now has more than 70,000 people aged 100 or older. Female centenarians outnumber males, making up for 88 per cent of the 71,238 centenarians in total.

Kane Tanaka at work. Image: Guinness.

Kane Tanaka at work. Image: Guinness.

Chitetsu Watanabe, at age 112 years, is the oldest man in Japan.

The Japanese government once gave every centenarian a silver cup on behalf of the prime minister, but in 2016 switched to distributing silver-plated cups to keep costs down.

The oldest living person ever is Jeanne Louise Calment, of France, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years, 164 days.

Image: Guinness Book of Records, YouTube.

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