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Japanese Woman Dies at 116

October 31, 2003

TOKYO (AP) _ A Japanese woman believed to be the oldest person in the world died Friday. She was 116.

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

Hiroshi Kurauchi, one of her grandsons, told The Associated Press that Hongo had been in the hospital for about a month and her health had been deteriorating.

Officials in Kagoshima, on the southern island of Kyushu, confirmed that she died Friday. They provided no details.

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

She was raised on a small, rural island on Japan’s southern fringe, and grew up tending to cows and farming potatoes. The same island also produced the Japanese record-holder for longevity, a man who died at the age of 120.

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

The world’s oldest documented man, 114-year-old Yukichi Chuganji, is also Japanese. 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 in conjunction with Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday, 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 and reflects changing values that have led more women to choose careers over children.

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 and fewer Japanese of working _ and tax-paying _ age.

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