Yone Minagawa, 114 years old and believed to be the world’s oldest living person, has lived through four Japanese emperors, according to the staff at her nursing home in southern Japan..
Born Jan. 4, 1893, Minagawa was identified as the world’s oldest person by Guinness World Records following the death Sunday of Emma Faust Tillman, also 114.
Minagawa has been living at the Keiju nursing home in the southwestern city of Fukuoka for several years and has a healthy appetite though she seldom leaves her bed, nurse Sumako Katsuki said by phone late Monday night.
“When she feels good, she ventures to the dining room by motorized wheelchair,” Katsuki said.
Minagawa was not available for comment because she had already gone to sleep for the night, Katsuki said.
Tillman, the daughter of former slaves, became the world’s oldest known living person last week, but died at a nursing home in Hartford, Conn. on Sunday night.
Her reign as the world’s oldest person was short-lived; she assumed the title Jan. 24 with the death of 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico.
The world’s oldest man is also Japanese. Tomoji Tanabe, 111, was born Sept. 18, 1895, and lives in the southern city of Miyazaki, according to Robert Young, senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records.
Japan has one of the world’s longest average life spans, a factor often attributed to a healthy diet rich in fish and rice.
In 2003, Japanese women set a new record for life expectancy, at 85.3 years, while men live an average of 78.3 years.
The number of Japanese living beyond 100 has almost quadrupled in the past 10 years, with the once-exclusive centenarian club soon expected to surpass 28,000, the government announced in September.
The number of people living past 100 has been on the rise since 1971, and has accelerated since 1996 when Japan had 7,373 people who had reached three figures, according to the ministry.
The rapid increase underscores both positive and negative sides of the country’s aging population.
While experts say that there are more active centenarians than before, the rapidly graying population adds to concerns over Japan’s overburdened public pension system.
Its centenarian population is expected to reach nearly 1 million — the world’s largest — by 2050, according to U.N. projections.