Photo/IllutrationBirths in Japan are projected to fall short of 900,000 for the first time since 1899. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The projected number of newborns in Japan this year will fall to its lowest level in 120 years, the health ministry announced Dec. 24.

It said the number of Japanese infants born is expected to fall below 900,000 for the first time since 1899, when the ministry began collecting such data.

Births will likely only reach 864,000, or 54,000 fewer than last year, the ministry said in its the annual estimate of national demographics.

It cited the nation's plummeting number of people in the reproductive age group as the primary reason for the historically low figure.

Although the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (IPSS) forecast births will fall below 900,000 in 2020, the ministry's figure showed that the pace of decline in the number of births is faster than the prediction.

Conversely, Japan this year recorded its highest number of deaths in the postwar era, 1,376,000, or 14,000 more than in 2018.

By subtracting the number of deaths from the number of births, the ministry said Japan's natural population decline in 2019 will amount to 512,000 people, 68,000 more than the previous year.

It will be the first time the figure has topped 500,000.

Japan's population has been falling for 13 consecutive years.

The country's highest number of births was 2,697,000 in 1949, which marked the "baby boom."

A second baby boom in the first half of the 1970s also pushed births above 2 million. Since 2016, however, the figure has stayed under 1 million.

The IPSS forecast 904,000 births in 2019 and 886,000 in 2020.

Marriages in 2019 also set a record for the fewest in the postwar era with only 583,000 couples tying the knot, the health ministry said. The figure was 3,000 lower than last year.

Divorces in 2019, however, are projected to increase by 2,000 from 2018, with 210,000 couples choosing to go their separate ways.