The first decline in Japan’s total fertility rate — the average number of children that a woman is estimated to give birth to in her lifetime — in nine years may indicate that government efforts to salvage the low birthrate have not brought much of intended effects. Still, we should avoid the expectation that such efforts will bear immediate fruit to remedy the nation's demographic woes in the first place. Policymakers need to maintain the steady implementation of necessary steps without being swayed by short-term ups-and-downs in the figures.

The birthrate had been inching up after hitting a historic low of 1.26 in 2005 — until it fell by 0.01 point in 2014 from the previous year to 1.42. In any case, the rate remains far below the 2.07 deemed necessary to maintain the population — a level that has not been recorded in Japan since 1973. Last year the nation suffered the largest natural decline in its population as the number of newborns hit a record low and the number of deaths rose to a postwar high — a reflection of the rapid aging of the population.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that the population's downtrend will accelerate. It is seen likely that the number of newborns — which fell 26,284 in 2014 from the previous year to 1,003,532 — will dip below 1 million as early as this year.