FUKUOKA -- Kane Tanaka, 117, a woman from this southwest Japan city, holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest living person. To cap off her achievements, she's listed on the lineup for the Tokyo Olympic torch relay, and aiming to participate in May 2021.
Tanaka had been marked down for the torch relay this year, which was suspended after the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But rather than losing her spot, she has been entrusted with the role again. If the games and relays go ahead as expected in 2021, Tanaka will be 118 years and 129 days old on the day she's expected to be part of the torch relay. Her family and others are looking forward to the date.
Her place in the relay came about thanks to a recommendation from Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic sponsor Nippon Life Insurance Co., which did so with the thinking that it "wanted her to send a positive message about this time of long-living." Her family, including 61-year-old grandson Eiji Tanaka, was approached about her participation and happily accepted, saying that they "want people to see Kane happily carrying the Olympic flame."
On May 11, 2021, in the Fukuoka prefectural town of Shime, which borders Higashi Ward where Kane's care home is located, she will hold the Olympic torch while pushed in a wheelchair 200 meters by a carer.
Kane had been set to be in the relay originally envisaged for May 12 this year, but the delay brought about by the coronavirus has meant she has to wait a year to make her appearance. During this period, on Sept. 19, she turned 117 years and 261 days old, and became the longest-lived person in the history of Japan according to records that can be confirmed by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The title used to belong to Nabi Tanaka of southwest Japan's Kagoshima Prefecture before her passing in 2018.
According to her nursing home, Kane is spending her days unable to even meet face-to-face with her relatives due to coronavirus prevention measures. But her physical condition remains good, and she enjoys playing games of Reversi with other residents. Whenever she has her favorite snacks, which include coke and chocolate, she tells people she wants to go to America. When she broke the national record for the longest- lived person, she received a certificate of congratulations from the Fukuoka governor, and a blanket made from Kurume-gasuri, a local high-quality cotton. In the video taken by staff of the event, she looks happy and healthy.
Due to her advanced age, Kane may have to retire from the torch relay if she's not feeling physically up to it or if the weather is poor, and as a result her planned participation in the event apparently hasn't been communicated to her. But her grandson Eiji said, "When we were first approached about her doing it, we worried what might happen given her age, but we were getting worked up over nothing. We'll be happy if the people who see her holding the torch up and looking well can think, 'There's hope in going on living.'"
Kane was born the seventh of nine siblings in the town of Wajiro, now part of Fukuoka's Higashi Ward, on Jan. 2, 1903, seven years after the first modern Olympics were held in Athens. The American Wright brothers completed the first successful manned aircraft flight in the same year, and the Russo-Japanese War broke out the following year.
When she was 19, she married her now-deceased husband Hideo. During World War II, her husband and their eldest son Nobuo, who has also passed on, went to fight. While they were away, she managed an udon noodle shop, and after the war she and Hideo ran a rice shop.
When the Olympics were last held in Tokyo in 1964, Kane was 61 years old. Next year's Olympics will be, when adding summer and winter editions of the games, the 50th of her lifetime.
(Japanese original by Yusaku Yoshikawa, Kyushu News Department)