Japan's population fell by a record amount last year as the number of deaths climbed to an all-time high in the quickly aging country, the government said Saturday.
Japan faces a looming demographic squeeze. Baby boomers are moving toward retirement, with fewer workers and taxpayers to replace them. The Japanese boast among the highest life expectancies in the world but have extremely low birth rates.
Japan logged 1.19 million deaths in 2010 — the biggest number since 1947 when the health ministry's annual records began. The number of births was nearly flat at 1.07 million.
As a result, Japan contracted by 123,000 people, which was the most ever and represents the fourth consecutive year of population decline. The top causes of death were cancer, heart disease and stroke, the ministry said.
Japanese aged 65 and older make up about a quarter of Japan's current population. The government projects that by 2050, that figure will climb to 40 percent.
Like in other advanced countries, young people are waiting to get married and choosing to have fewer children because of careers and lifestyle issues.
Saturday's report showed 706,000 marriages registered last year — the fewest since 1954 and a sign that birth rates are unlikely to jump dramatically anytime soon.
Japan's total population stood at 125.77 million as of October, according to the ministry.