Japanese People Past 100-Years-Old Rises to Nearly 70,000

People work out with wooden dumbbells outside a temple in Tokyo on Monday to celebrate Respect for the Elderly Day. | AFP-JIJI

The number of Japanese people aged 100 or older has risen to a record high of almost 70,000 over the past year – a cause both for celebration and concern over the social and economic challenges posed by the country’s rapidly ageing society.

Japan’s centenarian population was 69,785 as of September, with women making up 88% of the total, according to welfare ministry estimates reported by Kyodo News.

The number is up by more than 2,000 from last year, and marks the 48th annual increase in a row. Japan had just 153 centenarians when records began in 1963, and as recently as 1998 the number stood at just 10,000. It surpassed 30,000 in 2007, rising to almost 68,000 last year.

The data was released before Respect for the Aged Day on Monday, a public holiday when new centenarians – including the former prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone – will receive a commemorative sake cup and a letter of congratulations from the current prime minister, Shinzō Abe.

The dramatic rise in the number of people making it to their 100th birthday forced the government to reduce the diameter of the gift – a sakazuki – in 2009. Two years ago, the sterling silver cup was replaced by a cheaper silver-plated version to lessen the strain on government coffers.

The cost of honouring Japan’s super-elderly will continue to rise, however. The number of centenarians will exceed 100,000 in 2023 and reach 170,000 five years later, according to estimates by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

Japanese women have the longest life expectancy, at 87.2 years, while men rank just below Switzerland and Australia at 81.01 years, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal last month.

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SOURCE: The Guardian, Justin McCurry