Death Of The Week: Tomoji Tanabe
Dearly Departed: The oldest living man in the world, supercentarian Tomoji Tanabe, 1895-2009.
Cause Of Death: Heart failure.
Greatest Achievement: Remaining not dead for longer than any other man on the planet. Until now.
The purpose of this column has always been to poke a torch into a fresh grave without being bothered by too many pesky mourners. Amazing people complete their lives every week, and don’t necessarily get slo-mo montages on the national news. Farrah and Jackson will get this for months. Jeff Goldblum got one and he didn’t even have to die. I prefer to honour the oft-unsung heroes. Think of Death Of The Week as a ghoulish Denton — every corpse has an astounding story.
Tomoji Tanabe, who died last week, spent more years on the planet than Farrah and Jacko combined. Then again, his greatest legacy remains his impressive ability to remain alive. At the time of his passing, Tanabe was the oldest man on the planet. He had been so for 18 months, following the death of Emiliano Mercado del Toro, who held the title since 2004.
If he’d lived for two more days, he would’ve been the ninth longest-lived man in recorded history. That said, he was only the seventh-oldest person in the world and third-oldest person in Japan. The tiny nation has an incredible record for this stuff. They had 36,000 people over 100 years old in 2008, double that of six years ago. But they remain predominantly female, with women making up 86 per cent of Japanese centenarians.
Despite being a supercentarian, he really wasn’t that Zen about his overdue demise. He was featured in the press each year after his 110th birthday, saying at 112, “I want to live forever. I don’t want to die”, and reiterating that he wanted to live “indefinitely” on his 113th birthday.
Since he kept on keeping on for twice as long as most, what was this civil servant’s secret? No drinking or smoking, eating vegetables and drinking milk (although he confessed that his favourite food was not-so-healthful fried shrimp).
So what was the result of this spartan lifestyle? Eight children, 25 grandchildren and 53 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren. Plus ¥100,000 (about US$870 at the time), flowers and a personalised teacup from the mayor of Miyaknojo where he lived, southwest of Tokyo.
What can we learn from this? Should we attempt to extend our lives as long as possible, or do more with the time we have (like become the greatest pop star who ever lived or inspire a decade-defining hairstyle and be a wank-fantasy for an entire generation)? Is prodigious achievement worth more than a humble, but sustained, life? Such is the enigma of mortality. And Tanabe avoided having to account for his existence longer than almost everyone.
He will be missed.
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