The world's oldest person died at the age of 117 in southern Japan. She left behind more than 160 descendants.
John Bacon, USA TODAY Published 8:56 p.m. ET April 21, 2018 | Updated 4:21 p.m. ET April 22, 2018
With more than 160 descendants, the oldest person in the world, Nabi Tajima, has died at 117. Wochit
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The century of Lincoln, Darwin and Van Gogh has quietly passed into history with the death of the world's oldest known person and last survivor of the 19th century.
Nabi Tajima, 117, died in a hospital Saturday in Kikai, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan's Kyodo News reported. Tajima had been mostly bedridden at a nursing home in recent years. She was hospitalized about a month ago, family members told the news service.
"She passed away as if falling asleep. As she had been a hard worker, I want to tell her 'rest well,' " Tajima's 65-year-old grandson Hiroyuki said.
Tajima was born Aug. 4, 1900. The new oldest person is another Japanese woman, Chiyo Miyako, according to the U.S.-based Gerontology Research Group. Miyako, 116, was born on May 2, 1901.
Determining who can lay claim to the title of world's oldest can be a bit dicey. A chain-smoking Indonesian man known as Sodimejo died last May without ever gaining the moniker, despite a government-issued ID card listing Sodimejo's date of birth as Dec. 31, 1870.
Indonesia didn't start formally recording birth dates until decades later, and thus Sodimejo's claims failed the gerontology litmus test. Acclaimed genetics researcher Jan Vijg was among the non-believers. Vijg, a genetics professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, compared the claim to someone saying he had met an extraterrestrial.
"I would probably listen politely but not believe a word of it," Vijg told USA TODAY.
Tajima, who became the world's oldest known person with the death of Jamaican Violet Brown on Sept. 15, seems to have paperwork on her side. She was born on Aug. 4, 1900, in Araki, then known as Wan Village, in Kikaijima Island.
She raised seven sons and two daughters, and as of 2017 had more than 160 descendants, including great-great-great-grandchildren, according to the Gerontology Research Group.
Tajima claimed her secret to longevity was eating delicious food and getting plenty of sleep. She enjoyed hand-dancing to the music of a shamisen, a traditional Japanese musical instrument.
Now comes Miyako, who lives south of Tokyo.
"She can eat by herself and spends every day in good health," her family said in a statement. "We, as her family members, are very happy about her longevity."
The gerontology group lists the world’s oldest man as Masazo Nonaka, 112, of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four major islands. But women — and residents of Japan — dominate the list. The 22 oldest are women, and 13 of the 24 oldest people reside in Japan.
The World Health Organization studied longevity in Japan in 2011. Longevity "is thought to be associated with psychosocial factors such as sense of coherence, social support and social capital," the study found. However, it acknowledged that the actual factors responsible and the extent of their contribution to individual health were not known.
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