The Slatest

The Last Known Person Born in the 19th Century Dies in Japan at 117

This picture received from Kikaicho Town Hall via Jiji Press and taken on September 18, 2017 shows 117-year-old Nabi Tajima in Kikaicho on Kikai island of Kagoshima prefecture.
This picture received from Kikaicho Town Hall via Jiji Press and taken on Sept. 18, 2017, shows 117-year-old Nabi Tajima in Kikaicho on Kikai island of Kagoshima prefecture.
Jiji Press/Getty Images

Nabi Tajima died Saturday after spending recent years at a nursing home. At 117 she was the world’s oldest person and the last known person to have been alive in the 19th Century as she was born on Aug. 4, 1900. Tajima, who lived in the town of Kikai in southern Japan had been hospitalized about a month ago, according to Japan’s Kyodo News. “She passed away as if falling asleep. As she had been a hard worker, I want to tell her ‘rest well,’ ” said Tajima’s 65-year-old grandson Hiroyuki. Tajima raised seven sons and two daughters and had more than 140 descendants.

Tajima didn’t hold the title of world’s oldest person for very long. The Gerontology Research Group, which tracks people who are at least 110 years old known as supercentenarians, recognized Tajima as the world’s oldest person in September when Jamaica’s Violet Brown died at age 117. “Tajima has claimed her secret to longevity is eating delicious things and sleeping well,” noted the Gerentology Research Group on its website when it named Tajima the world’s oldest person.

The new oldest person in the world was born a few months after Tajima. Chiyo Miyako, 116, also from Japan, was born on May 2, 1901. “Currently, she can eat by herself and spends every day in good health. We, as her family members, are very happy about her longevity,” Miyako’s family said in a statement. The top 22 oldest living people are all women while the oldest man is 112-year-old Masazou Nonaka, who is also from Japan, according to the Gerontology Research Group’s ranking.

As Slate explained in 2006, it isn’t always easy to verify who the oldest people are considering that some documents may not be accurate. Naturalization certificates, for example, are seen as misleading because new immigrants may have inflated their age to be eligible for work. A chain-smoking Indonesian man who died last year claimed he was born in 1870 but experts never quite believed his claim even though he had official government documents that listed his birthdate. Jeanne Calment from France holds the record for oldest person with a verified birthdate. She died in 1997 aged 122.