The latest population estimate by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, released late last month, points to the accelerating decline of Japan's population with ever fewer births. The number of babies born in this country in 2018 is estimated at 921,000 — down 25,000 from the previous year and falling short of 1 million for the third year in a row. The lowest annual number of births on record since the government began taking comparable statistics in 1899 was outnumbered by 1.36 million deaths — a postwar record — thereby resulting in a record decline in the population — 448,000 people — for the 12th year-on-year fall in a row.
The Abe administration has vowed to tackle this "national crisis" by taking steps to support young couples in raising children, such as making preschool education free. However, the statistics indicate that it will be extremely hard to alter the demographic trend anytime soon. While those steps should be steadily taken over the long term, the government also needs to introduce policies geared toward the reality that the aging and shrinking of the population will continue.
The number of annual births in Japan hit a record 2.69 million in 1949 during the postwar baby boom. When the second baby-boomer generation was born in the early 1970s, the number still topped 2 million each year. But then it began to decline — dipping below 1.5 million in 1984, 1.1 million in 2005 and 1 million in 2016. The total fertility rate, the estimated number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime, fell below 2.07 — the level deemed necessary to maintain a population — in the mid-1970s and has never recovered that threshold.