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World’s Oldest People: Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, Luo Meizhen of China, Die Days Apart

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Asia Life

World’s Oldest People: Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, Luo Meizhen of China, Die Days Apart

Luo Meizhen (claimed age 127) and Jiroemon Kimura (116) have died.

It was announced today that Jiroemon Kimura, the oldest man in recorded history, has died at the age of 116 in his hometown of Kyotango, Japan.

Born to parents who were farmers in a fishing village on the coast of the Sea of Japan on April 19, 1897, Kimura managed to evade both tuberculosis and pneumonia – diseases that limited Japan’s life expectancy to 44 years at the time. His status as the oldest ever man (on record) – one of only three to reach 115 years – became official last December, with a nod from Guinness World Records.

“He has an amazingly strong will to live,” Kimura’s 80-year-old nephew Tamotsu Miyake said last December. “He is strongly confident that he lives right and well.”

According to Miyake, Kimura’s five siblings all lived past 90 – the oldest, Tetsuo, reaching 100. He is survived by five children, 14 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren.

Underscoring the Japanese knack for living long, Misao Okawa, born March 5, 1898, is now the world’s oldest living person, according to the Genealogy Research Group. The group found that 20 of the 55 people over the age of 110 are in Japan, where the life expectancy at birth is 83 years. This number is expected to rise to 90 for women by 2050. According to Japan’s health ministry, 51,000 Japanese are more than 100 years old.

Just days before Kimura’s passing, another famously aged person – a Chinese woman named Luo Meizhen – also passed away. Luo was born in 1885 according to Chinese documents, making her 127 when she died over the weekend.

"It wasn't unexpected," Luo’s grandson Huang Heyuan said. "She was a kind person but at times had a very bad temper … she had a strong character,” he added.

While Chinese authorities claimed Luo was indeed 127, the claims were met with skepticism overseas for a few key reasons. For one, China’s birth certification system was less than unfailing at the time of her birth. Another reason: it means that she must have given birth to one of her sons when she was 61 years old.

Throughout her long life – however many years it was – Luo toiled as a farmer and bore five children, along with numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. Indeed, a number of great-great grandchildren survive her in Longhong, a village in southern Guangxi province.

Chinafrica has compiled some very interesting findings on longevity in Luo’s home region and China as a whole, courtesy of the Gerontological Society of China (GSC). For one, authorities have claimed that more than 80 centenarians are living in Luo’s region.

As of August 1, 2010, the GSC claimed that 43,708 people over 100 years old were living in China, and the number is rising by the year.

Though unofficial in the Guinness World Records sense, even older records claim that a member of the Yao ethnic group living in Luo’s hometown lived to 142 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

While all of this is impressive to consider, according to Guinness World Records, the longest living person came not from Japan or China, but France. Jeanne Calment officially claimed the spot of the world’s oldest person, dying in 1997 at 122.