The country says it has 69,785 centenarians, more than 88 percent of them women. Japan celebrates and respects them, but there are downsides to this rapidly aging society.
In mid-July, the Japanese government announced that Chiyo Miyako, the oldest person in the world, had died at the age of 117. Her title would likely not have to travel far, however: Another Japanese woman, the 115-year-old Kane Tanaka, was expected to become the oldest women in the world in her place.
New information released by the Japanese Health Ministry suggests that there may be more Japanese women who take the record in the future. The ministry announced Friday that the number of Japanese citizens who were over 100 years old had risen once again to reach 69,785. Of that number, more than 88 percent are women.
The figure is an increase of over 2,000 centenarians from 2017 and a dramatic increase from 1963, when Japan first started collecting data on those who had lived past 100. Back then, there were just 153.
Japan celebrates the lives of its centenarians. Monday will be a public holiday known as the Respect for the Aged Day, when those who have reached the 100-year mark receive a letter of congratulations from the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and a commemorative sake cup.
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But their growing numbers are also evidence that Japan is a rapidly aging society. The median age of the country is 47.3, according to U.S. government figures. That makes it the second oldest country in the world, after Monaco; with low birth rates leading to a shrinking population, that figure is likely to get higher in the future.
With Japan’s public debt at 236 percent of gross domestic product, there are concerns about the economic burden that this rapidly aging society will place on Japan. Many expect the elderly to suffer under budget cuts in the future, with pension benefits further delayed to the age of 68. There are already concerns that many elderly are falling into poverty, with women in particular vulnerable as they struggle to find work.
Under Abe, the Japanese government has pushed the idea of a “100-year-life” where the elderly would continue to contribute to society. “Being 70 years old today is like reaching one’s 60s or 50s in the past,” the prime minister said at an event last year. “I myself will turn 63 this year, but I still feel like I am 52 or 53.”
Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research Japan has estimated that the number of centenarians will grow as the country’s broader population shrinks, potentially reaching 170,000 in a decade, according to Kyodo News.
Though the United States has a slightly higher number overall, 2015 research from Pew found that it had only 2.2 centenarians per 10,000 people while Japan had 4.8 per 10,000. Studies have suggested that a Japanese diet and efforts to keep the elderly active in later life keep people living longer in the country.