Image: World's oldest couple.
AP
107-year-old Nisaburo Senba plays the piano as his 100-year-old wife Yae listens in a wheelchair at their daughter's home in Kumamoto, southwestern Japan, on Tuesday. They are claimed to be the world's oldest couple of a total age of 207.
updated 9/13/2005 1:03:27 PM ET 2005-09-13T17:03:27

The number of Japanese aged 100 or older at the end of this month is projected to reach a record 25,606, with women comprising 85 percent of the total, the government said Tuesday.

The figure is up from the previous record of 23,038 set last year, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Japan’s population of centenarians has doubled in just five years, lending urgency to government efforts to shore up its overburdened public pension system as the country’s population rapidly grays. Japan is expected to have nearly 1 million people aged 100 and over by 2050 — the highest number in the world, according to the United Nations.

The oldest woman is Yone Minagawa, 112, in the southern state of Fukuoka, while the oldest man is Nijiro Tokuda, 110, in the southern city of Kagoshima, according to the ministry.

Tokyo, the capital, has the most centenarians — 2,387. However, Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost chain of islands, has the highest concentration of people aged 100 or older — 699 centenarians, or 51 for every 100,000 people — compared with a nationwide average of 20 per 100,000.

The ratio for the United States is about 10 in 100,000.

The announcement comes days before Respect for the Aged Day on Sept. 19, a national holiday honoring the country’s elderly, when the government gives each new centenarian a letter from the prime minister and a silver cup.

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