Photo/IllutrationForeign technical intern trainees from Thailand harvest “komatsuna” green leaf vegetables grown in a greenhouse in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, in December 2016. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

While the population of Japanese continued to decline for the ninth consecutive year, the number of foreign residents increased by 174,228 to 2.49 million as of Jan. 1, a 7.5 percent jump from the previous year, all three records.

The numbers, as compiled by the internal affairs ministry through the resident registry system and announced July 11, show that non-Japanese are making up for the workforce shortage caused by the declining population.

By prefecture, the highest rate of increase for foreign residents was 16.64 percent in Kumamoto Prefecture. One reason is that major farms in the prefecture employed foreign technical intern trainees.

In 14 prefectures including Kagoshima and Shimane prefectures, the increase in non-Japanese exceeded 10 percent.

Increases in foreign residents were seen in 46 prefectures, except for Nagasaki Prefecture, where the number of workers in the shipbuilding industry largely fluctuates depending on the period.

In 2012, a new regulation allowed non-Japanese to be registered as residents at each municipality.

The increase of 7.5 percent is the largest seen since the 2012 survey. The number of foreign residents spiked 20 percent compared to five years ago.

Meanwhile, the population of Japanese totaled 125,209,603, decreasing by 374,055, or 0.30 percent. After 2010, when the population started to decline, the decrease was the largest recorded since.

Compared to a year earlier, the population of 41 prefectures dropped, except for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama, along with Aichi and Okinawa prefectures.

Japan’s total population, including both Japanese and foreigners, numbered 127,707,259.

The productive Japanese population, aged 15 to 64, was 74,843,915 a decrease of 682,801, or 0.90 percent. The youth population aged 14 and under, which has experienced an annual decline, was 15,735,692, while the elderly population aged 65 and over, at 34,629,983, has continued to increase.

While looking at the declining birthrate and rapidly growing elderly population, companies in Japan struggling to secure an adequate work force have hired foreign technical intern trainees and other foreigners, which increased the number of non-Japanese.

The Japanese government plans to create a new residential status allowing non-Japanese to work in Japan for an additional five years once they complete the foreign trainee program.

“We have to make progress in preparing an environment to accept foreigners, such as considering which industries can accept them, strengthening the system to manage their residential status and enhancing Japanese language education," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference on July 11.

Suga said that Cabinet meetings will be set in July for discussions to start in detail on accepting more foreigners into Japan to address the labor shortage.