Japan’s population grew a mere 0.04 percent, or 45,231 people, to stand at 126,869,397 as of March 31 — the lowest annual increase in both rate and quantity on record, the government said Wednesday, noting population data started being collected in 1968.

Particularly disturbing was the change in the male population, which shrank by 10,680, or 0.017 percent, from a year ago to 62,076,658 for the first annual drop on record, according to the survey, based on resident registries.

The tiny increase in the total population, which fell below 0.1 percent for the first time, highlighted the gradual decline expected in the years ahead.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry attributed the fall in the male presence primarily to extended business assignments abroad.

The female population meanwhile rose by 0.09 percent, or 55,911, from a year ago to 64,792,739.

The survey also showed a continuation in the aging of Japan’s population combined with declining births. The number of births in the 12-month period through March was a record low 1,104,062 and the percentage of people aged 65 or above rose to 19.72 percent of the population, up 0.48 percentage point from a year earlier.

The survey also found that 49.71 percent of the population lives in the three major urban areas centering on Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

The rate of increase in these three areas was 0.30 percent.

Of the 47 prefectures, Tokyo had the largest population, about 12 million, followed by Osaka, Kanagawa, Aichi and Saitama.

Tottori had the smallest population, followed by Shimane, Kochi, Tokushima and Fukui, the survey said.

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