Kame Ganeko was born in Kina, a small village in Okinawa, Japan, on 10 April 1905. She was married at the age of 20 and had five children, one son and four daughters. She was widowed aged 39 after her husband died during World War II.
During the war, she hid in an air raid shelter with her children, ages 1, 3, and 5, and her mother-in-law, but as she was escaping, an American soldier shot her in the leg and the bullet pierced her leg. Her painful scars remained for the rest of her life, but fortunately the nerves in her legs were not damaged, and after the war she worked alongside men in hard labor, including manual labor and clearing land in Okinawa. One time she cut a tree with permission on military property and carried her logs there, and another time she carried the crops from her field on her back and walked into town to sell them. Despite the hardships after the war, she raised her children with love. She gave important lessons to her children: “Don’t complain. Don’t be jealous of others. Don’t fight back when someone does something mean to you.”
After the war’s end, Ganeko worked in the fields to support her family. In her 70s, she scaled a 172-meter (564-foot) rocky mountain using only the strength of her hands and legs, without ropes or other aids. After her descent she tried to climb the crag again, saying she had forgotten her glasses at the summit, not realizing that her glasses were already on her head. When she was 98 years old, she tripped in front of her front door and broke her bones, leaving her unable to walk for the rest of her life. Before this point, her daily routine was to do radio calisthenics (Japanese national health exercises) in front of her front door every morning, and she went went shopping at the local supermarket, pushing a cart. She was paralysed on her left side following a stroke aged 102, but was able to live in her own home and play with her great-grandchildren as a supercentenarian.
When her grandchildren were born, her daily joy became caring for them. From the age of 90 to around 100, she regularly met with her neighbors and her younger sister Kikue Taira at her home (a custom called “moai” in Okinawa) and spent the day drinking tea and chatting. On her 100th birthday, she said, “I have forgotten all the hardships I went through when I was young because of my happiness now.” When Ganeko was 112 years old, she attended her eldest daughter’s 88th birthday party (a traditional Okinawan celebration of longevity called “Tokachi”). She enjoyed the party for about five hours without feeling tired.
On 10 April 2019, Ganeko celebrated her 114th birthday. She was surrounded by her many family members and lived with her loving family at her home until she was 114 years old. Until she was 114 years and one month old, she attended a day care center five times a week, participating in games and recreation with other residents. She died in Yomitan, Okinawa, Japan, on 18 October 2019, at the age of 114 years, 191 days.
At the time of her death, Ganeko’s sister Kikue Taira (born 26 April 1910) was 109 years-old, and reportedly lives in Yomitan Village. They are the oldest siblings ever with a combined age of over 227 years.