Kane Tanaka, the world’s oldest person at the time of her passing at 119 years old in 2022, attributed her extraordinary longevity to a life filled with family, hope, faith, and plenty of chocolate.
Tanaka, who was born in 1903 in Fukuoka, Japan, lived through huge historical events like both World Wars and the 1918 flu pandemic. She also beat cancer twice before finally succumbing to old age just a few days shy of her 120th birthday.
While genetics likely played some role, Tanaka’s lifestyle may hold keys for other Japanese women looking to live long, healthy lives. She woke up early, stayed active mentally and physically, and maintained a sense of curiosity and engagement with the world around her.
Faith and family ties also seemed crucial to Tanaka’s longevity. She married at 19, had 4 biological children and adopted a 5th, and made time to enjoy sweet treats with her massive extended family even as she neared 120.
The oldest living person title now goes to French nun Lucile Randon, age 118, known as Sister André. But Japan still boasts an impressively high ratio of centenarians per capita. Supportive family structures, advances in health care, and diets centered around fish, rice, vegetables and soy foods all contribute to longevity.
Additionally, a cultural tradition of “ikigai” provides a sense of purpose and meaning to seniors in Japan. Finding personal joy and reason to wake up each morning, through hobbies, community, or time with grandchildren, may just be one key ingredient in the recipe for a long and fulfilled life.
Kane Tanaka clearly found her own “ikigai.” Though small in stature, she left behind huge dreams, planning to reach 120 years old before she passed. While she came up just short of that goal, perhaps the the sheer fact that it seemed possible provides hope and inspiration to women across Japan and around the world.
Centenarians like Tanaka show that with a little luck, healthy habits, purpose and positivity through life’s ups and downs, the next generation of super-seniors could shatter even more records – and enjoy long, joyful lives in the process. Japan has been leading the way, but the possibilities might be as endless as our imagination and will to make the most of each year we’re given.