Photo/IllutrationThese children were born during the nation's second postwar baby boom period. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The number of births in Japan this year will be the lowest since official records began in 1899, and the bad news doesn't stop there.

The population decline will be close to half a million, according to estimates released Dec. 21 by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The number of births this year is expected to drop by about 25,000 to hit an all-time low of about 921,000.

Population estimates are based on birth, death and other certificates registered at municipal government offices between January and October. Final figures for the entire year will be released in June or so.

While the number of births will be the lowest in more than a century, the number of deaths is expected to hit a postwar high of 1.369 million. Subtracting the number of births from that figure leads to a natural population decline estimate of about 448,000, another record.

This will be the third straight year in which births have fallen under a million. The early 1970s, the nation's second baby boom period, resulted in more than 2 million births a year. Since then, figures have steadily declined.

Over the 30 years of the Heisei Era, which began in 1989 and ends next year with Emperor Akihito's abdication in April, the decline in the number of births is expected to total 326,000.

An official with the health ministry said, "The main reason is the decline in the population of women between 25 and 39, which is the primary period for childbirth."

The graying of the population means the number of deaths over the entire year will rise for the ninth straight year.

The first year when there was a natural population decline, meaning more deaths than births, was in 2005. While there was a natural population increase the following year, the decline has continued since 2007.

Marriages are projected to total about 590,000 in 2018, the lowest for the postwar era and a decrease by 17,000 from last year.

The number of divorces is expected to reach 207,000, a decline of about 5,000 from 2017.