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Sawayo Tanaka

Gerontology Research Group
Validated By: Gerontology Research Group On Date: Oct. 21st 2004

Sawayo Tanaka was a validated Japanese supercentenarian.


Sawayo Tanaka was born in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, Japan on 09 June 1891. Her father was a farmer who built a successful business cultivating orchards. In 1914, when Sawayo was nineteen or twenty, her father arranged for her to marry Yahei Tanaka, a young man from the next village, in order that he could partner in the family farming business and aid in its continued growth. After their marriage, she and her husband moved into her parents’ house in Yukuhashi. Sawayo and Yahei Tanaka had nine children, six boys and three girls. The two of them worked together at the family business growing pears, grapes, and figs, and as a result of their hard work and dedication, the fields expanded over the years into a prosperous farm. Her husband passed away in 1981 at the age of 92.

Deeply religious, and a follower of Tenrikyo, a sect of the Japanese Shinto religion, Sawayo Tanaka regularly visited mountain shrines to pray. After her first son died in aerial combat in World War II, she walked twenty minutes every single day to pay her respects at his tomb until she was admitted into hospital in her late nineties.

Sawayo went through a series of hospital stays after breaking her leg in an accident at her home in 1996 before eventually being admitted on a long-term basis. In 2003, a party was held at her hospital ward for her 112th birthday, where, in spite of struggling with the summer heat, she was said to be in good spirits and thanked everyone present.
Sawayo’s son Nobuichi said that even after she stopped working on the fruit fields, she continued to cultivate rice, remarking “My mother was a hard worker.” Sawayo was skilled at sewing, and made dust cloths and kimono cords to give to the nursing home she lived in.

“Sawayo’s coping skills built a stable path for her to live a long and healthy life. Her personal habits have allowed her to arrive at a place of happiness, surrounded by a community of her family. I am convinced that beyond passing on her genetic code for longevity, she has passed to her children her code of behavior.” –The Earth’s Elders: The Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People

Sawayo Tanaka passed away on 1 November 2003 at the Yukuhashi Memorial Hospital in Yukuhashi City, Fukuoka Prefecture at the age of 112 years, 145 days. At the time of her death, she was the fourth oldest person in Japan, and the second oldest person in Fukuoka Prefecture, behind 113-year-old Ura Koyama of Iizuka City.

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Her age was validated by the Gerontology Research Group on 21 October 2004.

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* “112歳の田中沢世さん死去 県内長寿2位/福岡” Asahi Shimbun Western Region Edition/Fukuoka, November 5, 2003
* “Earth’s Elders: The Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People” by Jerry Friedman