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Japan’s population rose to about 127,687,000 in 2004, up by 0.05 percent from a year earlier, according to a preliminary government report on estimated demographic shifts obtained by Kyodo News.

The report, compiled by the the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, gave figures as of Oct. 1, the date the government uses when it calculates the annual population figure. It includes foreigners living in Japan.

The rate of increase represents a record low since the government began compiling monthly data in 1950, falling below 0.1 percent for the first time.

The increase was a record low 68,000, a significant drop from the 145,000 in 2002, according to the report, which was obtained Thursday.

The natural increase in the population, which is worked out by subtracting the number of deaths from births, hit a record low of 103,000 in the year to last Sept. 30.

The people leaving Japan outnumbered those entering the country for the first time, with the deficit at 35,000.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, which operates under the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, predicted three years ago that Japan’s population would peak in 2006 and start declining in 2007.

However, the birthrate is falling faster than expected and Japan may experience a population decline before 2007, according to some analysts.

On a monthly basis, Japan’s population dropped for the first time ever in May, though this was attributed to a surge in the number of Japanese outbound travelers compared with May 2003, when the SARS epidemic discouraged them from traveling to other parts of Asia.

Regarding the flow of people into and out of Japan, the internal affairs ministry’s Statistics Bureau said that while the number of incoming foreigners has not decreased, an increasing number of Japanese are leaving Japan, probably because Japanese companies are creating more subsidiaries overseas.

The population estimate is calculated by adding or subtracting factors such as births and deaths, as well as people coming into and leaving Japan, to figures obtained in the latest national census, which is conducted every five years. The last census was conducted in 2000 and the next one will take place this year.

Official population statistics are released by the government two years after a census.

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