World’s oldest man dies at 116 years of age

Jiroemon Kimura, 1897-2013: Good diet, strong genes and ‘an amazingly strong will to live’.

Jiroemon Kimura’s life, which came to an end yesterday, spanned three centuries, four Japanese emperors, 61 prime ministers and two world wars. What was the secret to his long life?

He was born when Queen Victoria was on the throne. If there had been jet flights he could have flown over to England to set babyish eyes on the great authors Anthony Trollope and George Eliot. He might even have been dandled on the knee of the father of evolution, Charles Darwin.

But yesterday, after seeing four emperors and 61 of his country’s prime ministers come and go, Jiroemon Kimura from Kyotango in Japan succumbed to old age. He was the world's oldest person, and the oldest man ever to have lived. He died at the age of 116.

Born on 19 April 1897, he became the oldest man in recorded history in late December 2012 at the age of 115 years and 253 days, following the death of Dina Manfredini, an Italian-American who lived in the USA. (The longest-living person in history was Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122).

His successor as the world's oldest person is Japanese compatriot Misao Okawa, a 115-year-old woman who already holds the title of the world's oldest woman.

Kimura’s secrets seem to have included a lot of time in bed at the home he shared with his grandson's widow, a diet of rice porridge and miso soup, waking early, eating little and a lively interest in current affairs.

Genetics may have also played a part: four of his siblings lived beyond the age of 90 and his youngest brother died aged 100. Kimura had seven children, 14 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren.

After leaving school at 14 Kimura spent 45 years working for the post office. He was retired more than half a century but helped on his son's farm until he was 90.

Japan's average life expectancy when Kimura was born was around 44 years; it now stands at 83. The country is home to more than 51,000 centenarians and around 20 supercentenarians, that is to say people aged 110 or older.

People in Japan usually live longer than in other countries. Is it good healthcare? Or is it something else, like their diet, lifestyle or social habits? What can the rest of the world learn?

Life secrets

Theories abound, and they tend to divide into two camps. One camp says it is mainly for physical reasons such as: good genes, universal healthcare, a vegetarian and fish diet, a strong tradition of walking and cycling, and a tradition of extremely good hygiene even in the poorest homes.

‘No evidence of that!’ says the other camp. The real reason for Japanese longevity is that they live in such small homes they are forced to go out a lot to socialise. Japanese people feel close to each other and are strongly group-oriented. This gives them ‘deep feelings of belongingness’ and high self-esteem which helps them to have positive perceptions, emotions and attitudes about their lives.

You Decide

  1. Is living past 100 a great personal achievement, or just good luck?
  2. How long would you like to live if a healthy mind and body were guaranteed? A century, a millennium, or perhaps even forever?

Activities

  1. Write down a list of three pledges to make to yourself which will help you live longer.
  2. If you live to 116, what do you expect the world to be like? In pairs, come up with as many things as possible that you think will have changed by then.

Some People Say...

“It’s not length of life but depth of life that matters.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson”

What do you think?

Q & A

I want to make it to 116! Any tips?
Eat plenty of fish, pulses and vegetables. Walk and cycle when you can. Try Tai Chi, yoga and other healthy activities. Keep and build up your social networks. Find organisations you can contribute to (eg as a volunteer or team member or member of a faith group). These all seem to help the Japanese live longer – and could help you too.
Any downsides?
Boredom maybe! Also, just imagine millions of healthy centenarians still working and calling the shots in society and your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren without the jobs and opportunities that have traditionally come about with the passing of generations.

Word Watch

Queen Victoria
Ruled Britain and Ireland between 1837 and 1901, when the British Empire was at the height of its powers.
Anthony Trollope
A Victorian novelist who was hugely popular and respected in his time and is still widely celebrated today. His works combined social and political commentary with drama and dry wit.
George Eliot
One of the greatest novelists of all time. Born Mary Ann Evans, she initially published under the name ‘George’ so that prejudiced readers would believe she was a man and take her works seriously. Eliot was politically progressive and her unconventional romantic life shocked many contemporaries.
Recorded history
History is full of claims to extraordinary long life, from Babylonian mythology to Germanic folklore to the Bible. But most of these are extremely dubious (if not absurd) and to officially go down as the oldest person nowadays requires evidence in the form of a reliable birth certificate.
Miso soup
A staple of the Japanese diet. The ingredients vary, but usually include seaweed and soya beans, often accompanied by an oily fish.

Subjects

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