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World's oldest person, 116, dies

Saturday, November 1, 2003

TOKYO -- Kamato Hongo, a Japanese woman believed to have been the world's oldest person, died Friday. She was 116.

Born in 1887, Hongo was recognized as the world's oldest by the Guinness Book of Records after an American woman -- Maude Farris-Luse -- died in March at the age of 115.

Her doctor, Kiyoshige Niina, said she died of pneumonia.

Hongo was famous throughout Japan for her habit of sleeping for two days and then staying awake for two days.

She had been hospitalized in Kagoshima, on the southern island of Kyushu on Oct. 8, after complaining of loss of appetite and fever. She appeared to have been recovering when her condition worsened Friday, Niina told a news conference.

Raised on a small, rural island on Japan's southern fringe, Hongo grew up tending cows and farming potatoes. The same island also produced the Japanese record-holder for longevity, a man, Shigechiyo Izumi, who died in 1986 at the age of 120.

Hongo symbolized the graying of Japan's society -- a trend that elicits both pride and concern.

Until last month, the world's oldest documented man was also Japanese -- 114-year-old Yukichi Chuganji. He died Sept. 29.

Japan's life expectancy -- 85.23 years for women and 78.32 for men in 2002 -- is the longest in the world. The average age of the population is also steadily rising.

An annual government survey released this year showed a record 24.3 million Japanese -- almost one in five -- have reached their 65th birthday.

At the same time, Japan marked a record low 1.32 births per woman last year, a figure that been falling for the last three decades.

The changing demographic has raised fears the nation's pension and health care systems will be badly strained in the years ahead by a population consisting of fewer people of working and taxpaying age.


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