Kane Tanaka was born prematurely as Kane Ota (太田カ子) on 2 January 1903, in the village of Wajiro (now part of the city of Fukuoka), Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. She was the seventh of nine children born to Kumakichi (father) and Kuma Ota (mother). Tanaka and her family claimed that she was actually born around 2 December 1902 and that her parents delayed the process of filing the report for about a month because they weren’t sure if she would survive.
Tanaka’s early childhood was during the last years of the Meiji period, which ended when she was nine, in 1912. She married her cousin Hideo Tanaka (19 June 1902 – 9 February 1993) on 6 January 1922, although they did not meet before their wedding. The couple had four children and adopted a fifth. Their eldest daughter died shortly after birth, and their second daughter died at the age of one in 1947, while their adopted daughter died at the age of 23 in 1945.
During the Second World War, Tanaka worked in her family’s store, Tanaka Mochiya, selling rice cakes and noodles. Her son Nobuo was captured by the Soviets but was released in 1947. After the war, Tanaka converted to Christianity under the influence of pastors stationed in Japan by the United States military. She continued to work in the store before retiring at the age of 63. To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1972, Tanaka and her husband traveled to the United States, where she has family, and they visited Disneyland.
Tanaka’s husband died in 1993 after 71 years of marriage. At the age of 90, Tanaka underwent an operation for cataracts, and at the age of 103, she survived a bout of colon cancer, also having to undergo surgery. When she was 107, her son wrote a book about her life and longevity.
Tanaka enjoyed calligraphy, writing poetry, playing Othello, and doing math problems. She also enjoyed eating chocolate, as well as having soft drinks, most notably Coca-Cola and Oronamin C. Tanaka stated that she had wanted to live to the age of 120. She attributed her longevity to her faith in God.
From 2005 until her death, Tanaka lived in a nursing home in Fukuoka prefecture, Japan. When she was 116, it was reported that she could get around with the help of a walker. In January 2020, Tanaka celebrated her 117th birthday with family and friends at her nursing home. However, in January 2021, she was not able to celebrate her 118th birthday in the same manner due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2021, it was reported by her relative on social media that Tanaka had fallen ill shortly after turning 118 but had successfully recovered. In a February 2021 photo, Tanaka was pictured wearing an oxygen tube.
Tanaka was scheduled to carry the Olympic torch during the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics torch relay when the flame passed through Shime, Fukuoka, on 11 May 2021. It was expected that Tanaka’s family would push her in a wheelchair for most of her 100-meter leg, but she may have walked the final few steps before passing the torch to the next runner. However, due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in Japan, it was decided that it would not be safe for this to happen.
Around September 2021, Tanaka received the COVID-19 vaccine, making her the oldest validated person to get vaccinated against the disease.
On 13 April 2022, just six days before her death, it was reported by Tanaka’s family on Twitter that she had repeatedly been in and out of the hospital, but despite her health declining, she still enjoyed eating chocolate, as well as drinking Coca-Cola and Oronamin C.
Tanaka died from natural causes at a hospital in Fukuoka, Japan on 19 April 2022, at the age of 119 years, 107 days. Her death was not publicly announced until 25 April. Following her death, Lucile Randon of France became the world’s oldest validated living person, and Fusa Tatsumii of Osaka Prefecture became the oldest validated living person in Japan.