World’s oldest person is a Japanese woman

She may look like any other grandma in a nursing home, but Kane Tanaka is anything but ordinary. The supercentenarian is the world’s oldest living person as of January 2022. She celebrated her 119th birthday on 3 January 2022 and expressed her wish to live till 120 years old. 

Tanaka now spends her days in a nursing home surrounded by her fellow residents, completing maths puzzles, and playing Othello. According to her 62-year-old grandson Eiji, Tanaka’s family has been unable to visit her due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, they hope to do so soon.

Kane Tanaka’s background 

World’s oldest person Japanese - Kane Tanaka 1923
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Born in Fukuoka on 2 January 1903, Tanaka was the seventh of nine siblings. She went on to marry her husband, Hideo Tanaka, at the age of 19. Together, they had four children and later adopted one more. During the Second World War, Tanaka ran a noodle stall while both her husband and eldest son were conscripted into the army. 

In 2019, when Tanaka was 116 years old, she was recognised as the world’s oldest living person by Guinness World Records. She also beat the Japanese age record later on when she reached 117 years and 261 days old. 

World’s oldest person Japanese - 119 bday of kane tanaka
Image credit: Reuters via Japan Times

Now, despite her old age, Tanaka wakes up at 6am every morning and keeps her mind active by solving maths puzzles and playing Othello. She credits her blessed longevity to her proclivity for coffee, Coca-Cola, and chocolate. 

Her family describes her as a chatty and lively individual with a love for sweet treats. During the presentation ceremony of her Guinness World Record certificate, she even indulged in a heaping plate of strawberries and cream.

Why do the Japanese live so long?

Tanaka is not the only Japanese person to live to such an old age. In fact, Japan is home to many centenarians and supercentenarians. It is not unusual to see elderly folks still in the workforce or being active in their communities. Unfortunately, Kane Tanaka’s magical diet of sugary drinks and desserts will not work for everyone, so what is the nation’s secret to longevity? 

A healthy diet 

World’s oldest person Japanese - japanese food
Image credit: Should Wang

The traditional Japanese diet consists mostly of seafood and plant-based food. Consumption of red meat is low, which is likely also the reason for Japan’s low rate of obesity. That said, obesity rates have increased slightly in recent years due to the rising popularity of Western food in Japan, which is higher in calories and fat. 

Respect for the elderly

The Japanese are known to have impeccable manners and value respect above everything else, especially towards people older than themselves. Elders are treated with the utmost reverence and regard – they are well taken care of by family, friends, and even the general public. 

This attitude towards the elderly helps to ensure that they are equipped with a supportive community and contributes to a healthy environment for them to live out their golden years. 

Community involvement

Local governments have been collaborating with the private sector in order to care for Japan’s ageing population. Some convenience store chains have agreed to distribute educational healthcare information, as well as hold health fairs at their outlets. 

World’s oldest person Japanese - lawson convenience store
Image credit: Andrew Leu

The idea behind is that people are more likely to visit convenience stores frequently – much more than they’d visit the city hall or a government-related office. By distributing healthcare information in convenience stores, the government hopes to reach out to a wider audience.

And by learning how to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of common illnesses, senior citizens can better treat themselves and learn to avoid major causes of elderly ailments.

Having an active lifestyle

World’s oldest person Japanese - old people
Image credit: Matthew Bennett

The Japanese are encouraged to maintain an active lifestyle, urged to postpone retirement, or even consider second careers in order to keep their body and minds in tip-top shape. 

Community groups and neighbourhood associations also help to keep the elderly moving by organising walks along designated trails along parks, canals, and streets. It has the added benefit of creating a sense of community, which lifts the spirits of the elderly. 

Japanese woman’s secret to becoming world’s oldest person

We may not all be Japanese supercentenarians who gain their power from chocolate and cola, but we could all benefit from adopting healthier lifestyle habits such as staying active and eating more plant-based foods. That being said, the key to a long life is being happy, and that includes indulging in your favourite foods –  ideally in moderation – just like Kane Tanaka. 

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Cover image adapted from: Wikimedia Commons and Reuters via Japan Times

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