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Society

Japanese population shrinks by record 500,000

Steady rise in younger foreign residents cushions decade-plus slide

Japan's natural decline, or the difference between deaths and births, came to an all-time high of 511,998. (Photo by Wataru Ito)

TOKYO -- The number of Japanese citizens fell by 505,046 last year, the steepest decline in data going back to 1968, official figures released Wednesday show.

The tally sank for an 11th consecutive year in 2019 to 124.27 million as of Jan. 1, according to an annual government survey based on the national resident registry. The natural decline, or the difference between deaths and births, came to an all-time high of 511,998.

Just 59.3% of Japanese nationals were in the working-age range of 15 to 64, the smallest share on record. With the population steadily graying, measures by both the public and private sectors -- such as higher retirement ages -- that encourage seniors to continue working will be needed to keep the economy growing.

An increase in residents from overseas partly compensated for the decline. Foreign nationals living in Japan rose 7.5% to a record 2.87 million, of whom 85.3% were working-age. Many are students or technical trainees in their 20s, providing an important source of labor for shorthanded companies.

The Japanese population grew in only three prefectures: Tokyo, nearby Kanagawa, and Okinawa. Tokyo's edged up 0.5% to 13.26 million.

By comparison, all but one prefecture saw increases in foreign residents, with the largest jumps recorded in the urban centers of Tokyo, Aichi Prefecture -- which contains Nagoya -- and Osaka. The capital had 577,329 foreign nationals, making up 4% of its population.

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