In rapidly graying Japan, living until you’re 100 is no longer a milestone for many: Miyako Chiyo, the oldest person in the country and world, died Sunday aged 117, according to the country’s Health Ministry.
Chiyo was born on May 22, 1901 and clinched the title of oldest living woman in Japan from Misao Okawa, then the country’s oldest person, when she died, also aged 117, in April 2015.
Okawa was born on March 5, 1898. She was one month younger than Chiyo.
Chiyo passed away just after Guinness World Records recognized her as the oldest person alive and the oldest woman alive.
In a statement released by the organization, the 117-year-old’s family described her as a patient, kind and chatty “goddess” who brought joy to those around her. Chiyo loved eating Japanese foods such as sushi and eel and enjoyed practicing calligraphy.
Her successor as oldest woman has yet to be officially confirmed by Guinness. The title of oldest man in Japan is currently held by Masazo Nonaka, who turned 113 on July 25.
With its historically-low fertility rate, Japan is considered a “super-aged” nation, where most of the populace is over 65.
As of February 2018, there were 69,000 people over 100 years old, according to Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 9,000 of them are men, and 60,000 of them are women.
Though centenarians are spread across Japan, in Okinawa, the ratio is among the world’s highest: about 50 per 100,000 people.
With over 1,000 centenarians, Okinawa has earned a reputation as a “land of the immortals” and is one of five “Blue Zones,” areas around the world in which people live much longer than average.
But Japan’s case is no longer unique. By 2020, there will be 13 “super-aged” countries, according to a 2014 report by Moody’s Investors Service.
As aging populations increase, the pressure to care for the elderly can put a strain on families as well as social systems.
The International Monetary Fund predicts that the working-age populations in many mature Western economies will fall more than 20% between 2015 and 2055, along with their gross domestic product. But increasingly, silver populations do not necessarily spell disaster.
“It’s important to realize that older populations present challenges but also opportunities,” said John Roland Beard, director of the Department of Aging and Life Course at the World Health Organization. “We need to shift away from the outdated stereotype that people retire and that’s that, to ensuring that older people can continue to participate in society.”
Makoto Suzuki, an 84-year-old cardiologist and pioneering geriatrician agrees with Beard’s stance. He has chosen to focus his research on what older people can do to stay healthy while continuing to contribute to society.
“We need longer-living, healthier, happier old people,” he told CNN in March.