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Pedestrians walk during heatwave conditions in Tokyo on July 18, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

TOKYO: Japan’s population fell by a record in 2022, government data showed on Wednesday, as the country struggles to reverse its perennial low birthrates.

While many developed countries face low birthrates, the problem is particularly acute in Japan where the population has now fallen for 14 straight years.

The country has the world’s second oldest population, after tiny Monaco, and in January, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warned Japan was “on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society”.

Last year, the number of Japanese fell by 800,523, or 0.65 per cent, to 122,423,038 from a year earlier, a survey by the internal affairs ministry shows.

For the first time, the population fell in all 47 prefectures.

The overall drop was the steepest decline recorded since 1968, when the government survey began, the ministry said.

Strict immigration rules

In contrast, Japan’s foreign population increased by a record 289,498, or 10.7 per cent, to 2,993,839 - the highest since 2013, when comparative figures were available.

Japan has relatively strict immigration rules but the government has been gradually loosening them to address labour shortage issues.

The sharp increase also coincided with the government’s relaxation of its Covid-19 pandemic border controls.

“Decline in the number of children and population is an important issue that involves Japan’s social, economic, and social welfare issues,” top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Wednesday.

The government will work towards “prompting women and elderly people to enter the work-force” through reforms of work styles and labour markets, he said.

The country of 125 million recorded fewer than 800,000 births last year, the lowest since records began, while the cost of elderly care soared.

Last month, Kishida unveiled a $25 billion plan to expand support for young people and families in a bid to help raise the country’s plummeting birthrate.