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World's oldest turns 116 in Japan

A Japanese woman believed to be the oldest person in the world has turned 116.Born in 1887, when Japan was still in the throes of its conversion from samurai rule //to modern democracy, Kamato Hongo was recognized as the world's oldest living person by the Guinness Book of Records after an American woman -- Maude Farris-Luse -- died last March at the age of 115.

Along with being the object of national pride as a symbol of this nation's unmatched longevity, Hongo is famous throughout Japan for her habit of sleeping for two days and then staying awake for two days.

Hongo, whose husband died when she was 77, reportedly slept through an early birthday party held for her last month by 140 relatives and friends.

She has seven children -- three of whom have died -- 27 grandchildren, 57 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren.

One of them has an Internet homepage devoted to her great-great-grandmother that lists various products she has endorsed -- from good luck charms to unrefined brown sugar, Hongo's favorite snack.

Hongo, who is now bedridden and shares a hospital room with her 77-year-old daughter, has not had an easy life. Hospital officials said she was taken to her home Tuesday for a birthday celebration, and was awake and in good spirits. Raised on a small, rural island on Japan's southern fringe, she grew up tending to cows and farming potatoes. The same island also produced the Japanese record-holder for longevity, a woman who died at the age of 120. The world's oldest documented man, 114-year-old Yukichi Chuganji, is Japanese. Japan's life expectancy -- 85.23 years for women and 78.32 for men in 2002 -- is the longest in the world. The average age of the population is also steadily rising. An annual government survey released Monday in conjunction with Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday, showed a record 24.31 million Japanese -- almost one in five -- have reached their 65th birthday . The changing demographic has raised fears the nation's pension and health care systems will be badly strained in the years ahead by a population consisting of fewer and fewer Japanese of working and tax-paying age.
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