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Number of Centenarians in Japan Tops 47,000

Quickly graying Japan said it has a record 47,756 people aged 100 or older -- most of them women.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Tuesday that was an increase of 3,307 from last year and four times more than a dozen years ago.

Some 87.1 percent are women. The oldest is 114-year-old Chiyono Hasegawa, who was born on Nov. 20, 1896. The oldest man is 114-year-old Jirouemon Kimura, whose birthday is April 19, 1897.

Japan, with 128 million people, is one of the world's most rapidly aging societies. It has one of the lowest birthrates and one of the longest life expectancies -- fueling concerns about its shrinking tax base and overburdened public pension and medical care systems.

Twelve years ago, in 1999, Japan had 11,346 citizens in the century club.

The ministry said that as of Sept. 1, 24,952 people had turned 100 in the previous 12 months.

Each new centenarian will receive a letter from the prime minister and a silver cup.

The credibility of these statistics was questioned last year after it became clear that some people included in the tally were dead or missing. The ministry relies on residential registration records to compile the statistics. An official said this year's data may include some who are missing after the March 11 tsunami disaster.

However, the ministry did confirm that all new centenarians in its tally are alive.

The report was released ahead of Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday that falls this year on Sept. 19.