Photo/Illutration Health minister Katsunobu Kato speaks to reporters in Tokyo on Sept. 1. (Hayato Murai)

Japan reported 384,942 babies were born between January and June 2022, down more than 20,000 from the same period last year, according to health ministry demographic statistics. 

Not since 2000 have fewer than 400,000 babies been born in the first half of a year. The decline shows a 5 percent year-on-year decrease.

“(The fallen birthrate) significantly impacts the entire society and economy,”  health minister Katsunobu Kato told The Asahi Shimbun and other media outlets on Sept. 1. 

Observers believe it is likely the number of newborns will hit a record low again this year.

In June, the ministry announced the number of newborns in 2021 had dropped to 811,604, the fewest since 1899. The latest data shows the decline is only accelerating.

Kato added that fewer births and the resultant increased burden on the working-age population to support the social security system is “one of the challenges we should prioritize the most.”

Among the reasons cited for the falling birthrate include the financial burdens on parents while raising children and supporting their education, the difficulties of balancing a working life and child-rearing, and creating an environment in which people become more willing to get married.

“Various factors intertwined (to lead to this),” Kato said. 

The ministry has implemented measures such as ensuring more child care services are provided, encouraging men to take parental leave and including infertility treatments in medical services covered by health insurance.

Observers argue, however, that more measures are urgently needed with the decline in the working-age population.

As part of moves to tackle the declining number of births, a panel of experts to advise the government on building a “social security system oriented to all generations” plans to identify short-, medium- and long-term challenges and prepare a timetable for necessary reforms.

However, finding a solution is not easy, analysts said. Expanding government support for child-rearing requires additional funding, they added.

“It is important not to pass this issue on to the next generation and instead tackle it with a policy wherein everyone should be supported (in the social security system) according to their capabilities,” Kato said.