Objectively speaking, 119 of anything is a lot. Whether it be unread emails in the inbox, burpees in an F45 workout or beers on a particularly debaucherous night out, the triple-digit figure is one that rarely rustles up positive feelings, however, for Kane Tanaka, 119 marked a fitting farewell. On Tuesday, a statement released by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare confirmed that the Fukuoka-native and officially the world’s oldest person had passed away at the ripe old age of 119. Talk about a solid inning.
BREAKING : The oldest living person Kane Tanaka dies
♦️The Japanese woman believed to have been the world's oldest person has died aged 119.
— INDEPENDENT PRESS (@IpIndependent) April 25, 2022
Born on January 2, 1903, the very same year as George Orwell and Bob Hope, Tanaka’s life story is truly remarkable. According to CNN, she married a rice shop owner at age 19 and continued to work in the family store until she was 103, more than earning her long-service leave. In addition to living through influential historical events, surviving two world wars and the 1918 Spanish flu, not to mention COVID, Tanaka twice beat cancer, demonstrating an incredible will to surge on.
“She became the oldest living person in January 2019 at the age of 116 years and 28 days,” Guinness World Records tweeted about Tanaka’s passing. “She is also the second oldest person ever recorded, behind only Jeanne Calment who lived to the age of 122.”
More recently, Tanaka had been in the news for a different reason. Initially poised to participate in the Olympic torch relay ahead of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, the world’s oldest woman was forced to step down after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Since then, the Japanese icon had continued to live a quiet existence in her nursing home in Fukuoka and perhaps, it’s here that the true secret of Tanaka’s longevity can be observed.
Living through five Japanese imperial reigns, pre-dating Penicillin and falling just short of eclipsing Australian Federation is no mean feat, however, it appears the trick to a remarkable life is to keep it wholly unremarkable in nature. Tanaka didn’t go for the wild and extravagant, instead opting for an existence based on consistency and routine. Speaking recently, her family confirmed she kept her mind and body engaged by doing math and ‘remaining curious’.
— 田中カ子 (@tanakakane0102) November 30, 2020
That curiosity was apparently the main driver for keeping Tanaka an active member of the family. Back in 2020, her great-granddaughter Junko Tanaka set up a Twitter account to celebrate the life of the world’s oldest person. The account shared photos of the supercentenarian at home, engaging with family and practising her faith. “I might be biased because I’m related to her but I think it’s kind of amazing — I wanted to share that with the world and for people to feel inspired and to feel her joy,” Junko told CNN.
The 119-year-old marvel also reportedly made it a habit to eat and sleep well, following a consistent diet observed over many years. We all know the benefits of structured eating plans in relation to long-term health, but importantly, Tanaka didn’t deprive herself of cravings. A classic photo from a birthday a few years back shows her posing while holding up a bottle of Coca-Cola.
It’s a similar story across Japan, where centurions aren’t uncommon. According to CNN, in 2020, one in every 1,565 people in Japan was over 100 years old, of which more than 88 per cent were women. Looking at Tanaka’s incredible journey, it’s hard to put the full 119 years into perspective, however, the life lessons learned appear to be as down to earth as the woman herself. Live simple, stay curious and do a little math every now and then.