Page last updated at 11:21 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 12:21 UK

Japan centenarians at record high

Matsu Yamazaki
Matsu Yamazaki is 103 and remains active

The number of Japanese people hitting the landmark age of 100 has reached record levels.

There are now 36,276 centenarians in the country - a rise of 4,000 on last year's figure, a report by the Health and Welfare Ministry found.

Women make up the vast majority of those who are living past 100.

Japan has one of the world's longest life expectancies, but there are concerns about the burden this is placing on society.

Both the country's pension system and social services are under pressure from its burgeoning greying population.

Active lives

According to the latest figures, almost 20,000 people were set to turn 100 this year alone - receiving a congratulatory silver cup and letter from the prime minister.

While the number of Japan's centenarians has been rising for the last 40 years, the figures have accelerated in the past decade.

UN projections suggest there will be nearly one million people over 100 years of age in Japan in 2050.

Of the country's current centenarians, a staggering 86% are women.

The ministry, which released its annual report ahead of Japan's Respect For the Aged Day on 15 September, said its elderly population were living more active lives than ever.

Japan's oldest woman is 113 and lives on the southern island of Okinawa, the ministry said.

The oldest man is 112-year-old Tomoji Tanabe from the southern prefecture of Miyazaki. He rises early, reads his morning newspaper, has milk in the afternoon and writes his diary in the evening.

Matsu Yamazaki is 103 years old but still works in her family's grocery shop in Tokyo, looks after her home and does puzzles to keep her mind agile.

"Even if I go on living, I just don't want to lose my mind," she told the BBC in July.

"I know lots of people who've lost their memory. They go out and wander around town and can't find their way home."

The key to Japanese longevity has long been put down to a number of factors, including healthy diets, strong communities and excellent medical care.

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