Less than two weeks before his death, Guinness World Records recognized Watanabe as the world’s oldest man at 112 years and 344 days old. At the Feb. 12 ceremony at which he was presented with a certificate from Guinness that read “the world’s number one,” Watanabe reportedly “clenched his fist in triumph,” according to the Mainichi, Japan’s nationally circulated newspaper.
At the Guinness ceremony at the nursing home where he lived, Watanabe credited his long life to avoiding anger and smiling a lot. His daughter-in-law Yoko Watanabe testified to seeing him live those ideals.
“I’ve lived together with him for over 50 years, and I’ve never seen him raise his voice or get mad,” Yoko Watanabe said, according to Guinness. “He’s also caring. When I was working on my patchwork hobby, he was the one who praised my work the most. I think having lived with a big family under one roof, mingling with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren helped keep a smile on his face as well.”
Watanabe was born on March 5, 1907, the eldest of eight children. After finishing school and moving to Taiwan to work on sugar plantations, he met his wife, Mitsue, and together they had five children, according to Guinness. He served in the Japanese military, but Watanabe’s first passion appeared to be agriculture: He cultivated a small family farm of fruits and vegetables until he was 104 and trimmed and exhibited traditional Japanese Bonsai trees well into his 100s.
When he quit farming and gardening, his love turned to sweets, including cream puffs and custards, the AP reported.
Watanabe’s cause of death was not given, though Yoko Watanabe told the Mainichi he had difficulty eating and developed a fever and trouble breathing in recent days. The paper said he is survived by his five children, 12 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Kane Tanaka, who holds the record of world’s oldest person, celebrated her 117th birthday in January.
Japan is regularly well-represented among the record holders for world’s oldest; the country’s average life expectancy is around 84, according to data from the World Bank, among the highest in the world, along with Hong Kong and Switzerland.
Unlike the United States’ life expectancy, which until recently had been on the decline, Japanese longevity has consistently grown, increasing by more than four years over a quarter-century. The vegetable- and fish-heavy Japanese diet is commonly credited with long life spans. Research has indicated a complex web of factors that contributes to longevity, including the affordability and accessibility of a country’s health-care system, daily activity and environmental stresses.