Record 20,000-plus Japanese over 100 years old
( 2003-09-09 17:37) (Agencies)
The number of Japanese aged at least 100 rose to 20,561 this year, a new record in the world's longest-living nation, the government said Tuesday.
The figure was up from a record 17,402 centenarians last year. Included are all Japanese who will have celebrated their 100th birthday by the end of September, the Health Ministry said in an annual study released ahead of a national holiday next week honoring the country's elderly.
Japan's life expectancy is the longest in the world for both sexes _ 85.23 years for women and 78.32 for men in 2002 _ and the growing number of people who have lived more than a century is a source of national pride.
But a falling birth rate has also raised concerns about Japan's ability to support its increasingly gray population.
About 84 percent of Japan's centenarians are women, including the country's oldest living person, Kamato Hongo, who turns 116 on Sept. 16. The second oldest is a man, 114-year-old Yukichi Chuganji.
They are recognized as the world's oldest living man and woman by the
Guinness Book of Records. Hongo, who was born Sept. 16, 1887 in southern
Kagoshima prefecture, got her title after American Maude Farris-Luse died last
March at the age of 115.
But senior citizens interviewed by the nation's media each had their own
Okinawa, a chain of islands on Japan's southern fringe, boasts the country's highest proportion of people over 100: 34.67 per 100,000. Local specialties include vegetables, fruits and bean curd.
Sept. 15 is celebrated as Respect for the Aged Day in Japan. Each new centenarian is awarded a silver cup and a certificate signed by the prime minister.
But pride in longevity in Japan is tinged with official concern the nation may struggle to support its senior citizens in coming decades.
Japan's birth rate has been falling for the last three decades, slipping to
1.32 children per woman last year. Demographers say people over 65 will account
for more than a third of the population by 2050.
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