• Kyodo

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The number of babies born in Japan in the January-to-June period rose 2.4 percent from a year earlier to 508,802, government data shows, suggesting it would lead to the first annual increase in five years.

The country’s population has been declining as the proportion of elderly people rises.

The number of births has been decreasing since 1949, when it peaked at about 2.7 million.

The figure for the first half rose by about 12,000, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said in a preliminary report released Thursday. If babies are born at a similar pace in the second half, it could mark the first year-on-year rise since 2010.

The ministry remained cautious about whether an economic improvement or measures to address the falling birthrate would help halt the downward population trend, given that the number of women in their late teens to 40s, normally considered as of childbearing age, has been declining.

The data showed the number of newborn babies was up from a year earlier in every month from January to June. The year-on-year increase has continued since December 2014.

There were notable increases in urban areas, with Tokyo logging a rise of 2,562 in the six months, followed by Osaka Prefecture at 1,221 and Kanagawa Prefecture at 1,045.

The number of deaths in the six-month period totaled 666,336, producing a natural decline of 157,534 in the nation’s population.

The preliminary data include babies born in Japan of foreign nationals. The ministry releases revised data about just Japanese babies the following year.