The number of births registered with local government offices between January and June increased for the first time in six years, according to a health ministry report Monday.

A total of 549,255 babies were registered at municipal offices in the first half of the year, an increase of 11,618 from the same period last year, according to preliminary figures.

An official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the nation’s overall fertility rate, which hit a record low of 1.25 last year, could turn upward in 2006 if the trend in the number of births continues.

The fertility rate, or the average number of children born to a woman aged 15 to 49, hit an all-time low for the fifth year in a row in 2005, with fewer people getting married young and giving birth soon after marriage, the government announced in June.

According to the latest report, the number of marriages registered between January and June was 367,965, up 10,936 from the same period a year ago, with marriages registered in February reflecting an increase of about 5,000 from the same month last year.

The ministry said an increase in the percentage of married people in their 30s contributed to the increase in the total number of marriages and births.

The number of deaths in the six-month period, which was high last year due to effects of influenza, dropped this year by 4,589 to 564,082.

The natural population increase, derived by subtracting the number of deaths from births in the one-year period up to June, was 11,846, the report says.

“We cannot conclude with just these results and say that birthrates (in Japan) have stopped falling,” said Ryuichi Kaneko, a researcher at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

“We must follow the changes for at least one year and come up with conclusions. We also need to analyze whether people who have postponed having children have decided to do so in their 30s or whether younger people are having more babies.”

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