The world’s oldest person died Wednesday morning, less than a month after celebrating her 117th birthday. Misao Okawa, a Japanese woman certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest person, died from natural causes at a nursing home, according to the Associated Press, which cited nursing home official Tomohiro Okada. Born in 1898, Ms. Okawa had been the oldest person alive since 2013.
Only four living people born before 1900 remain, according to the US-based Gerontology Research Group. The planet’s most senior citizen is now 116-year-old Gertrude Weaver, who lives in Arkansas. The previous record holder was also Japanese, and Okawa’s death highlights the long life expectancy and explosive ageing of Japan’s population, with the number of centenarians forecast to rise more than threefold over the next 15 years.
When Okawa was born in 1898, the fourth daughter of a family who ran a kimono store, Japan was a poor but rapidly developing country that had just begun to emerge on the global stage. She lived across three centuries, seeing four emperors of Japan, six British monarchs, and 20 US presidents.
The Russo-Japanese war began when she was six and she lived through both world wars. Okawa had three children but in an illustration of Japan’s demographic trends, only four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1931, when she was 33.
By 2050, Japan is projected to have more than 600,000 people aged over 100 — far more than the US, with the next biggest cohort of centenarians, despite a much smaller population.
Japan’s life expectancy is 84 years at birth, the longest in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
That is often attributed to the country’s traditional low-fat, fish-based diet — but Okawa drank coffee and ate whatever she felt like. Asked for the secret of her longevity, she said: “Eat tasty food and sleep well.”