Japan's population had its largest drop on record, falling by 644,000 to just over 125.5 million in 2021, reflecting a decline in foreign residents amid tighter border controls over the coronavirus pandemic and the rapidly aging society, government data showed Friday.

The population stood at 125,502,000 as of Oct. 1, down 644,000 from a year earlier for the 11th consecutive year of decline. The drop was the biggest since comparable data became available in 1950, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said.

The number of foreign nationals living in Japan dropped by 25,000 to 2,722,000 following the strict border controls that were put in place to mitigate imported coronavirus cases.

Japanese nationals totaled 122,780,000, a drop of 618,000 from a year earlier. While Japan saw 831,000 births in 2021, the number was outpaced by the year's 1.44 million deaths.

Japan faces the dual challenge of a declining workforce and a graying population. However, the pace of population decline had slowed in recent years, helped by an increase in foreign workers coming to the country under a relaxed visa system to help ease the labor shortage.

But the coronavirus border controls prevented businesses struggling with labor shortages from hiring foreign workers and prompted the business community to call for easing the measure.

The working population, or people between 15 and 64, dropped by 584,000 to 74,504,000, accounting for 59.4 percent of the overall population, a record low.

Those 14 and below accounted for an all-time low of 11.8 percent of the total population, while people 65 and over made up a record high of 28.9 percent.

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