Trends in Japan > Lifestyle > A Nation Of Longevity
Japan Home to World's Oldest Man and Woman
(July 26, 2007)

The world’s oldest man, 111-year-old Tanabe Tomoji (©KYODO NEWS)

Japan boasts the world's longest average lifespan, and as of July 2007 it is also home to the oldest person in the world. Minagawa Yone, who lives in Fukuoka Prefecture, was born on January 4, 1893, making her 114 years old. The oldest man in the world, meanwhile, is Miyazaki Prefecture's 111-year old Tanabe Tomoji, who was born on September 18, 1895. Both Minagawa and Tanabe were recently recognized by the Guinness World Records, giving Japan the honor of being home to both the oldest woman and the oldest man in the world.

A Family of 87
Minagawa lives in a nursing home. When she heard from the Guinness Book, she clasped her hands together in thanks. This remarkable woman raised five children while selling the vegetables and flowers grown on her family's plot of land, and her favorite food is bananas. Though she is a light eater and usually leaves about half the meals served at the nursing home, she will always eat an entire banana. (Note: Sadly, Minagawa Yone passed away on August 13.)

Tanabe, meanwhile, became a farmer at the age of 40 after working for the local city office as a civil engineer. His wife passed away 19 years ago, and he now lives with his fifth son and daughter-in-law. In addition to his children, he has 25 grandchildren, 51 great-grandchildren, and 3 great-great-grandchildren, giving him an extended family of 87. Tanabe is in such good health that his doctor told him he would have no problem living to 120. He leads a regimented life, getting up at 6:00 every morning and going to bed by 10:00 every night. Also part of his daily schedule is drinking a glass of milk at 3:00 every afternoon. He does not drink or smoke, he avoids snacking, and he eats lots of vegetables.

While Tanabe is hard of hearing, he manages to take care of most things on his own, and he even keeps a diary that he updates every day. His favorite foods are fried shrimp and miso soup with clams. He seemed a bit surprised when he heard the news from the Guiness Book, but he told everyone, "I'm alive thanks to you. I'm very happy." When he was asked how long he wanted to live, he made everyone laugh by responding, "Actually, I'd rather not die."

1.15 Million People Over 90
While they may currently hold the records for being the oldest man and woman alive, Minagawa and Tanabe are actually not as exceptional as one might think. According to 2006 statistics from the Statistics Bureau of Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan's population last year was 127.77 million. Of that number, some 1.15 million people were aged 90 or over. There were about 29,000 people—4,000 men and 25,000 women—aged 100 or over. These figures demonstrate just how many people are living long lives in Japan.


Source: (for figures up to 2005) Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, The Life Tables; (for figures from 2015) National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Population Projections for Japan.


Source: The World Health Report 2006

Looking at the average life expectancies at birth in various countries, it becomes even more clear that Japan is a nation of longevity. Although there is some variation in how countries calculate life expectancy, the World Health Report issued by the World Health Organization in 2006 had Japan tied with Monaco and San Marino for first place, with a combined average life expectancy for men and women of 82 years. Tied for fourth place at 81 years were Australia, Iceland, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland. Canada, France, and six other countries tied for ninth place at 80 years. Among other major countries, the United States placed twenty-sixth at 78 years, South Korea finished in thirty-second place at 77 years, and China ranked sixtieth at 72 years.

As of 2005, the average life expectancy was 78.56 for Japanese men and 85.52 for Japanese women. It is estimated that the average life expectancy 50 years from now will rise to 83.67 for Japanese men and 90.34 for Japanese women.

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