The national birthrate rose slightly to 1.35 last year from a record low 1.34 in 1999, according to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics.

The ministry attributed the rise to more couples deciding to bear children in the symbolic first year of the millennium.

The birthrate measures the average number of babies born to a woman in her lifetime, and the increase was the first since 1996.

But it remained short of the government’s minimum goal of 1.379, a figure it wants to attain so it can promote various social policies, including pension plans.

According to statistics released Wednesday, 1,190,560 babies were born in Japan last year, up 12,891 from 1999.

But the ministry said the data do not mean the long-term decline in births has stopped. Japan’s birthrate has continued to fall since 1975, when it dropped below 2.

“We must implement measures to lessen the burdens of child-rearing, such as promoting a child-care leave system and child-nursing facilities,” an official said.

Marriages in 2000 numbered 798,140, the most since 1978, the statistics show.

Mothers’ average age for first childbirth was a record-high 28 years, up 0.1 year from 1999. By age, the number of women who gave birth in their 20s dropped by 10,055, while those who gave birth in their 30s grew by 20,237.

The average age for first marriages was 28.8 years for men, up 0.1 year from 1999, and 27 years for women, up 0.2 year. These data suggest that marrying later in life contributes to falling birthrates. The number of divorces was 264,255 last year, up by 13,726 from 1999 and a record high for Japan.

Divorces involving couples who lived together for more than 35 years jumped 11.3 percent. But the 96,216 divorces involving couples who had lived together for less than five years accounted for 36.4 percent of all divorces.

There were 961,637 deaths, dropping 20,394 from 1999, with cancer the leading cause, at 30.7 percent. For men, lung cancer was the leading cause of death, at 39,048, followed by stomach cancer.

The number of people who committed suicide numbered 30,226, above 30,000 for the third year in a row but down slightly from 1999. About 21,000 of the suicide victims were male.

Suicide was the leading cause of death for men aged 25 to 39, the data show.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.