Yone Minagawa

Yone Minagawa of Japan officially became, at 114, the oldest living person yesterday, with the death of her, um, predecessor. Does the title mean her days are numbered? (Photo: A.P.)

Being recognized as the world’s oldest living person is something of an honor — at least as measured by the competititive spirit that often seems to underlie the quest for the most super of planet’s supercentenarians.

Just a couple years ago, 116-year-old Maria Esther Capovilla came suddenly out of Ecuador to swipe the title from Elizabeth Bolden of Memphis, Tenn., who until December of 2005 was thought to be the world’s oldest living person. Ms. Capovilla’s family apparently dropped papers on title-keepers at Guinness World Records, who then plucked the crown from Ms. Bolden.

Now, whether the title comes with a curse is an open question — we’re talking about folks who, judged against the averages, appear to be already living on borrowed time, after all.

But it’s true that Ms. Capovilla lasted only a little over six months, and the quick succession of title-holders after her makes one wonder if it wouldn’t be worth keeping one’s longevity a secret.

Ms. Bolden took the crown again with Ms. Capovilla’s passing, but held on to it for just three months before surrendering to the fates. That elevated Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico — for about a month and a half. He died last Wednesday.

Emma Tillman of East Hartford, Connecticut, then took up the baton. And today’s news: Ms. Tillman died on Sunday, at 114, after just four days as the oldest.

According to Guinness, that leaves 114-year-old Yone Minagawa of Fukuoka, Japan, as the new longevity leader.

The hope is that Ms. Minagawa will reverse the recent trend of ever-shorter tenures. So far, things look pretty good. From The Associated Press in Tokyo:

Yone Minagawa … has lived through four Japanese emperors, according to the staff at her nursing home in southern Japan. …

Minagawa has been living at the Keiju nursing home in the southwestern city of Fukuoka for several years and has a healthy appetite, though she seldom leaves her bed, nurse Sumako Katsuki said by phone late Monday night.

“When she feels good, she ventures to the dining room by motorized wheelchair,” Katsuki said.

To find out more, Wikipedia offers a decent overview of supercentenarians, with tables attributed to Guinness. Readers can also view the data compiled by the International Committee on Supercentenarians.