Yone Minagawa, 114; world’s oldest living person

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Yone Minagawa, recognized as the world’s oldest living person, died Monday at a hospital in Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan, according to news reports. She was 114. The cause was old age.

Minagawa had been a resident of a nursing home in Fukuoka since 2005, when she turned 112. Earlier, she lived alone.

She was certified as the oldest living person on record by Guinness World Records earlier this year after 114-year-old Emma Faust Tillman of East Hartford, Conn., died Jan. 28, 2007.

At the time Minagawa attributed her long life to sensible eating and plenty of sleep.

With Minagawa’s death, the oldest living person on record is Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Ind., who is also 114 and was born nearly four months after Minagawa.

Minagawa was born Jan. 4, 1893, in Fukuoka Prefecture. She married, had five children and was widowed at an early age. She supported her family by selling vegetables and flowers that she cultivated at home.

All but one of her children has died. She is survived by a daughter, seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Japan ranks among the nations with the longest life expectancies. Some researchers attribute this to a diet that traditionally has been based on fish and rice.

“I don’t believe any of that,” said Dr. L. Stephen Coles, director of the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles, about Japan’s traditional diet. Although there may not be valid records of supercentenarians -- people who live to be 110 or more -- living in China, Africa or elsewhere around the world, he said, it is a mistake to jump to conclusions.

“It’s not that the Japanese have the secret of the fountain of youth, Coles said. “Rather, it is that they have kept better records than other countries over the past 100 years.”

In recent years, Coles and other gerontologists who keep track of supercentenarians have found that the chance of survival declines sharply beyond that age.

“When a person turns 110, the probability of dying the same year is 50%. At age 114 or 115 the probability is 80%,” Coles said in an interview this week.

The percentage of women versus men who survive to advanced old age is dramatically different. “Ninety percent of the people who make it to age 110 are women,” Coles said. “Only 10% are men.” So far, no exact reason for that fact has been found, Coles said.

Coles noted that the oldest resident of California is 113-year-old Gertrude Banes of Los Angeles.