JA Connections to World’s Oldest Person

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Kane Tanaka, 116, has many relatives living in Southern California.

Kane Tanaka holds a copy of The Rafu Shimpo. Born on Jan. 2, 1903, the 116-year-old has been confirmed as the world’s oldest person by the Guinness Book of World Records. (Photos by MIE ASO/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIE ASO, Rafu Staff Writer

The oldest person in the world is part of an extended family, which includes Japanese Americans living in Southern California.

Kane Tanaka, born Jan. 2, 1903, was confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records in March as the oldest person. She lives a comfortable life at a nursing home in Fukuoka. Among her favorite pastimes is the board game Othello; she also enjoys mathematics.

Tanaka has survived several health scares, including a bout of colorectal cancer.

Gary Funakoshi and his wife Linda visited Tanaka during a trip to Japan earlier this year. He explained that Kane is his great aunt. Her brother was Gary’s grandfather Hirokichi Funakoshi. The siblings came from a large family, when Hirokichi married, he adopted his wife’s name Funakoshi, so the lineage would continue.

Tanaka had a brother who emigrated to the U.S. When the brother went back home to see his family, Tanaka continued to stay in contact and that connection has lasted through the generations.

Leslie Ito, former CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, calls Kane her great-great cousin. Her grandmother Marion Manaka is a great-cousin to Kane and the two have been able to keep in touch through videos shot by family.

“My grandma lives at Kei-Ai, (Kane) lives in a convalescent home, so when a relative goes there they take video and we take video of my grandma,” Ito explained.

Gary and Linda Okada Funakoshi visit Kane at the nursing home in Fukuoka.

Her family in California have been keeping tabs as Tanaka has risen through the ranks of super-centenarians. She was designated the world’s oldest person, following the passing of  Chiyo Miyako, who died in July 2018 at age 117.

Ito met Tanaka once, as a five-year-old. Tanaka had visited Los Angeles to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ito’s great-grandfather. Ito hopes to be able to do a Facebook live video stream with Tanaka during an upcoming family reunion.

At the ascendancy of Emperor Naruhito last month, Tanaka was presented with a chocolate representing the new Reiwa Era. She has lived through five imperial eras.

According to Guinness, Japan dominates lists of the oldest men and women. As of February 2018, the country was believed to be home to around 69,000 people over the age of 100, of which 9,000 are men and 60,000 are women.

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