Health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa referred to women as "child-bearing machines" in a speech Saturday on welfare and health care.

Addressing prefectural assembly members of the Liberal Democratic Party in Matsue, the 71-year-old Yanagisawa touched on the nation's declining birthrate and said, "The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of child-bearing machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head, although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines."

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry revised downward its population estimate in December, projecting the total population to fall around 38 million from now to 89.93 million in 2055.

Yanagisawa said at the time, "There are many young people who want to have children. In order to meet such a wish, we would like to make utmost efforts."