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As Japan's population ages, old isn't old anymore

A government report said that Japan remains the leader in life expectancy.

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There is good news and bad news for Japanese babies born today.

New statistics suggest they can expect to live longer than anyone else in the verifiable history of mankind. But they are also increasingly likely to spend those extra years hard at work rather than in leisurely retirement.

For Japan's coming generations, octogenarians will be the norm. This approaching era of longevity is causing Japan to reevaluate what it means to be old, and redefine exactly when "old" happens.

The average Japanese girl born last year will live 84.93 years, while boys will make it to 78.07 years of age. This is attributed to a low-fat diet, reliable healthcare, and high standards of living.

These figures, released by the Health Ministry earlier this month, extend the existing world records held by Japan. Hong Kong, where women will live an average of 83.9 years, is second.

But with Japan having one of the lowest birthrates in the world, politicians and demographers warn that elderly Japanese will have to work later in life to keep pension and healthcare systems from collapsing as the population shrinks and ages.

"We need a higher level of participation of ... elderly in the labor force," says Takeo Hiranuma, minister of trade and industry. "We have to turn aging into a locomotive for growth. We need to change mind-sets."

According to Guinness World Records, Japan is home to the world's oldest woman, Kamoto Hongo, who turns 115 this year; the oldest man, 113-year-old Yukichi Chuganji; and the community with the highest proportion of centenarians – 33 people per 100,000 in Okinawa.

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