Jiroemon Kimura, who passed away at the remarkable age of 116 years 54 days, held a record that few of us ever have the chance of achieving: the world's oldest living person. Perhaps more significantly, though, Kimura-san achieved an even rarer accolade when, on 28 December 2012, he became the oldest man who ever lived. As the oldest male whose age could be reliably determined, Kimura succeeded Denmark's Thomas Peter Thorvald Kristian Ferdinand "Christian" Mortensen, who reached 115 years 252 days in April 1988, and became the first man to ever exceed 116 years.
Kimura was born in 1897, the same year as authors Enid Blyton and William Faulkner, aviator Emelia Earhart and jazz musician Fletcher Henderson. In the same year, Queen Victoria celebrated her 60th anniversary on the British throne, and William McKinley became President of the United States.
The retired postal worker is one of the few men known to have lived across three centuries, and would have seen immense social and technological advances including the advent of motor vehicles, television, powered flight, space travel and the internet, and seen the accession of six UK monarchs, five Emperors of Japan and 20 US Presidents.
I had the honour of meeting with Kimura-san in October 2012, when I presented him with the latest edition of the Guinness World Records book and handed over his official certificates. He was very welcoming, accepting me and colleagues from our Tokyo office into his home in Kyotango, Kyoto. He was alert and sharp, and even spoke a few words of English he'd learned specially for my visit. It was touching to hear him say "Thank you very much," in English, loud and proud, as I handed over his certificate.
Only seven people are known to have ever reached the age of 116 years. Of these, only four went on to celebrate their 117th birthday, all of them women. Among them was Jeanne Louise Calment of France, who reached the record age of 122 years 164 days – the oldest person whose age has been fully authenticated.
Kimura will be remembered by us at Guinness World Records as a unique, inspirational individual who was a pleasure and honour to know. We've also had the privilege of acknowledging fellow Japanese Misao Okawa, who today at 115 years 99 days takes on the mantle of oldest living person. Now comes the task of identifying and confirming the current oldest living man, a job that falls into the hands of Guinness World Records' gerontology consultant Robert Young.