Japan’s Jiroemon Kimura, recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest man in recorded history, has died at the age of 116.
Kimura died today at 2:08 a.m. of natural causes in a hospital in his hometown of Kyotango, western Japan, the local government said in a faxed statement. Admitted for pneumonia on May 11, over the past few days his response, blood-sugar level and urine production had declined, according to the statement.
Born on April 19, 1897, when Queen Victoria still reigned over the British Empire, Kimura dodged childhood killers such as tuberculosis and pneumonia that kept life expectancy in Japan to 44 years around the time of his birth. He became the oldest man in recorded history on Dec. 28, 2012, at the age of 115 years and 253 days. The oldest woman in recorded history, France’s 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 in December. “He is strongly confident that he lives right and well.”
Kimura was also the world’s oldest living person. That title now goes to Misao Okawa of Japan, who was born on March 5, 1898, according to a list of the world’s oldest people compiled by the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group. The previous record-holder for male longevity, Christian Mortensen of California, died in 1998 at the age of 115 years and 252 days.
Kimura was among 20 Japanese on the research group’s list of 56 people verified to be age 110 or older, 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 percent 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.
Born in the 30th year of Japan’s Meiji era, Kimura was only the third man in history to reach 115 years of age, according to Guinness. He was one of just four male supercentenarians, or people 110 years or older, known to be alive as of December, Guinness said at the time.
The third of six children, Kimura 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. Kimura was 6 years old when Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic first flight in a powered aircraft in North Carolina.
According to Kimura’s nephew Tamotsu Miyake, the 115-year-old’s birthday is actually March 19. Records say he was born April 19 because an official misprinted the month when records from merging towns were consolidated in 1955, the nephew said.
After finishing school at the age of 14 as the second-best student in his class, Kimura worked at local post offices for 45 years until his retirement in 1962 at the age of 65. He also worked at a government communication unit in Korea in the 1920s, when the peninsula was under Japanese rule, and returned to marry his neighbor Yae Kimura.
As his wife’s family didn’t have a male heir, he changed his name to Jiroemon Kimura, making him the ninth person in the family to bear the name. After retiring, he enjoyed reading newspapers and watching sumo wrestling on television. He sometimes helped his son farm until he was about 90 years old, his grandson’s widow, Eiko Kimura, said in an interview in December.
Kimura was a disciplined, serious man when he was younger, Miyake said. Even when he drank with his brothers, he would sit straight and keep quiet, Miyake said.
His wife, Yae, died in 1978 at the age of 74. Four of Kimura’s five siblings lived to be more than 90 years old, and his youngest brother, Tetsuo, died at 100, Miyake said.
Kimura lived with Eiko in a two-story wooden house he built in the 1960s. He never suffered from serious diseases, was still able to communicate and spent most of his time in bed, Eiko said in December.
“Grandpa is positive and optimistic,” she said. “He becomes cheerful when he has guests. He’s well with a good appetite.”
Kimura’s living descendants as of December included five children, 14 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren.
A funeral is set for Friday, the Associated Press reported, citing Kyotango officials.