TOKYO -- Jiroemon Kimura, a 115-year-old Japanese man born when Queen Victoria still reigned over the British Empire, became the oldest man in recorded history Friday, according to record keepers.
Kimura, of Kyotango, western Japan, was born April 19, 1897, in the 30th year of the Meiji era, according to Guinness World Records. That makes him 115 years and 253 days as of Friday, breaking the longevity record for men held by Christian Mortensen of California, who died in 1998 at the age of 115 years and 252 days. The oldest woman in recorded history, Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, died in 1997 at the age of 122.
"He has an amazingly strong will to live," Kimura's nephew Tamotsu Miyake, 80, said in an interview. "He is strongly confident that he lives right and well."
Kimura is among 22 Japanese people on a list of the world's 64 oldest people compiled by the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group, highlighting the challenges facing Japan as its population ages. A combination of the world's highest life expectancy, the world's second-largest public debt and a below-replacement birthrate is straining the nation's pension system, prompting the government to curb payouts, raise contributions and delay the age of eligibility.
Japan's average life expectancy at birth is 83 years, a figure projected to exceed 90 for women by 2050. The number of Japanese centenarians rose 7.6 per cent from a year earlier to 51,376 as of September, and there are 40 centenarians per 100,000 people in the country, which has the world's highest proportion of elderly, according to Japan's health ministry.
Kimura became the world's oldest currently living person on Dec. 17, when 115-year-old Dina Manfredini of Iowa died, according to London-based Guinness and the Gerontology Research Group. Manfredini was born 15 days before Kimura.
Kimura was in a hospital Friday morning, Yasuhiro Kawato, head of the section for elderly welfare at Kyotango's city hall, said by phone.
"His condition has improved, and we're not worried, but the doctors said it would be best if he stayed in the hospital into the new year," Kawato said.
The world's second-oldest living person, Japanese woman Koto Okubo, turned 115 on Dec. 24.
Kimura lives with his grandson's widow, Eiko Kimura, in a two-storey wooden house he built in the 1960s. Eiko wakes him up every day at 7:30 a.m. and takes him by wheelchair to a dining room for breakfast consisting of porridge and miso soup with potatoes and vegetables. He has never suffered from serious diseases, can communicate and spends most of his time in bed, Eiko said.
"Grandpa is positive and optimistic," she said. "He becomes cheerful when he has guests. He's well with a good appetite. Even when he falls ill, I can tell he'll recover."
Kimura, the third of six children, was born as Kinjiro Miyake in Kamiukawa, a fishing and farming village sandwiched between the mountains and the Sea of Japan. His parents, Morizo and Fusa Miyake, were farmers who grew rice and vegetables.
Only two years earlier, Japan's success in the First Sino- Japanese War had established the nation as the dominant power in East Asia.
-- Bloomberg News