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BIOGRAPHY

Tsuji Takano was born in Oshima Village (now Oshima Ward in Jōetsu City), Niigata Prefecture, Japan, on 7 June 1897, as the oldest daughter of a farming family. She got married at the age of 19 and had nine children; five boys and four girls. As of 2009, she had 24 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren, and 6 great-great-grandchildren.

In her youth, she left her home and served as a live-in babysitter for a family of local landowners to provide financial support for her own family. The family she worked for recognized her promising intelligence and briefly allowed her to attend school, on the condition that she continued fulfilling her babysitting duties. This arrangement led to her making the journey to school with a baby on her back. However, her education was cut short as her father opposed her attending school, asserting that, “Girls don’t need to study.” Takano had a desire to see the world. At the age of 15, she moved to Tokyo to work as an apprentice. It was here that she saw her first train and had running water and electricity for the first time in her life. She was taught manners and etiquette by a former servant of the Tokugawa clan, the ruling dynasty of Japan during the Edo Period, before being called back to her hometown at the age of 19 to get married.

After marrying, Takano moved in with her husband Toji, four kilometers away from her childhood home. The couple engaged in agricultural work. When their eldest son was five years old, a dam built in the upper stream of the nearby river brought electricity to the small village of Oshima for the first time. Takano, not used to the brightness, said she found it difficult to sleep with the lights on. In World War II, three of Takano’s sons were conscripted into the military and sent away to fight. She was also greatly worried about her daughter, who lived in Tokyo during the bombing of Tokyo in 1945. Takano vowed to abstain from drinking tea until her sons returned home safely—which they eventually did. Later, reflecting on this time with a smile, Takano said that having electricity for the first time and the safe return of her sons were the two happiest times of her life. After the war, Takano’s husband went away to work every winter, at which times she would raise and take care of their children on her own. Her husband passed away in 1959.

Takano lived with her eldest son Yoshio and his wife in the village of Oshima, an area of heavy snowfall where snow would sometimes pile up to 3-meters high. Takano was said to be unfazed by these extreme weather conditions. Every year starting in 1973 at the suggestion of her son Shigeru, who was concerned for his mother during the harsh winters, Takano traveled cross-prefecture to alternate between staying with him and her other children for the winter. Some years she would stay with Shigeru and his wife in Tokyo; others, with her daughter Yoshiko in Osaka. She had her own room at each house and friends in each area.

Takano was highly independent and enjoyed staying active. At the age of 101, she still regularly cultivated the vegetable fields outside her house, and was capable of going up and down the stairs without assistance. Commenting at this time, she said “I’ve had all sorts of illnesses throughout my life. Longevity is a mysterious thing.” She continued to cultivate the fields until the age of 107. At some point, Takano moved in with her fourth son Shigeru and his family in Niigata City, and stayed with them until around the age of 108, before moving into a nursing home for the elderly in the same city in 2006. By the age of 111, Takano was spending most of her time in a wheelchair, but was still said to be mentally sharp. She was unable to communicate verbally due to being hard of hearing, but was able to engage in conversation by replying to notes with questions on them handed to her by visitors and staff. Reflecting on her youth, she expressed gratitude towards the family she worked for as a live-in babysitter for allowing her to go to school; without this experience, she would have not been able to engage in the written communication that was now an indispensable part of her daily life.

Takano had a keen interest in politics. During her youth, after returning to her impoverished hometown from the prosperous Tokyo to get married and work the fields, Takano bore a quiet dream—that the men of her family would one day have the right to vote. In Japan at that time, only males who paid over a certain amount in taxes were eligible to participate in elections, but Takano’s hopes came true in 1925 when a law was passed granting suffrage to males over the age of 25. Even at the age of 108, Takano voted at every election and never missed a National Diet broadcast on TV. She believed that the right to vote was an essential part of being a fully-fledged member of society, remarking, “I’m grateful to be alive in this age.” Takano had a kind personality. If she saw someone leave behind a towel or candy when they were out exercising, she would always chase after them to hand back their forgotten possessions. Her favorite phrase was “Thank you.” She enjoyed singing and dancing, and on one occasion at the age of 111 during a visit to the nursing home, danced along gleefully to the singing of her daughter, Naoshi. She was also a fan of a famous comedy duo from Joetsu City. She had a hearty appetite and wasn’t picky over food.

RECOGNITION

On 13 August 2007, following the death of 110-year-old Shozo Otani, she became the oldest living person in Niigata Prefecture.

Her age was verified by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW), as well as Hamish Todd, and Ken Matsuoka, and validated by the Gerontology Research Group on 18 January 2008.

On 15 June 2009, at the age of 112 years, 8 days, she surpassed the final age of Haruno Shimada (1857–1969; age not validated), becoming the oldest person to ever live in Niigata Prefecture. She held this record until her own final age was not surpassed by Yukie Hino on 28 April 2014.

Following her passing, she was succeeded as Niigata Prefecture’s oldest living person by Haru Kitagawa.

ATTRIBUTION

* “[長寿社会を生きる] 第5弾・こがね色のとき/2 ◇101歳「何でも自分で」” – Mainichi Shimbun, 3 July 1997

* “憂楽帳: 一票の重み” – Mainichi Shimbum, 26 August 2005

* “高野ツヂさん死去 112歳、県内最高齢/新潟県” – Asahi Shimbun, 26 June 2009

GALLERY

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