Japan has so many 100-year-old people that it can't afford its special age prize anymore

Japanese people often live to 100, but the award they get for doing so is dying out at age 52.

In 1963, when the Japanese government first started taking Seniors’ Day (September 15) to honour people who lived past their 100th birthdays, only 153 people qualified for the award: a silver sake dish known as a sakazuki.

Today, that number is 29,357.

In 2014, all those super-survivors cost the country more than $US2 million, and the costs will keep going up.

By 2018, the government estimates it will have nearly 40,000 centenarians, according to the Japan Times. While still short of the U.S., which boasts more than 50,000 centenarians, that proportion is the highest in the world (Japan has a population of 127 million, while the U.S. has 319 million people).

Japan also has the highest life expectancy of any country: Men live to be about 80, and women live to 87.

According to the Times, the sakazuki may not be entirely entirely dead.

Instead of using silver to honour its elderly in the coming weeks, Japan is considering using a cheaper material. Or it may shift gears entirely and send a congratulatory letter instead.

Scientists have long studied Japanese culture to figure out why people live so long there. Research into the Okinawa Prefecture reveal five factors that likely play big roles:

  • diets rich in fish, grains, and vegetables
  • a strong sense of community
  • spirituality and a sense of purpose
  • low-stress lifestyles
  • high-activity levels, even into old age

Whatever their secret may be, the conventional wisdom applies here: We should pay attention to our elders.

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