Japan's population shrank by 556,000 in 2022 from a year earlier to 124.9 million for the 12th straight year of decrease, as the number of Japanese nationals saw its largest drop on record, government data showed Wednesday.

As of Oct. 1, the population, including foreign residents, stood at 124,947,000, with the number of Japanese nationals down 750,000 to 122,031,000, the largest margin of decline since comparable data were made available in 1950, the data said.

The trend indicates an urgent need for Japan to establish a social system to cope with the dual challenge of a declining birthrate and a graying population.

People walk under cherry trees in full bloom at Tokyo's Ueno park on March 22, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference that the government will address the country's falling birthrate "with the highest priority."

All of Japan's 47 prefectures except Tokyo posted a fall in the number of residents in the year to October last year, with deaths outnumbering births in all prefectures for the first time, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

The growing number of foreign residents living in Japan, however, has in recent years helped offset the country's overall population decline.

The foreign population rose by 194,000 to 2,916,000 in the reporting year following the relaxation of strict border controls put in place to mitigate imported coronavirus cases, the data showed.

By prefecture, Okinawa's population shrank by 0.01 percent, the first time it has fallen since its reversion to Japanese rule in 1972.

Tokyo saw its population increase by 0.20 percent, rebounding from the first drop in 26 years last year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that slowed the traditional influx of people to the capital region.

The working population, or people between 15 and 64, dropped by 296,000 to 74,208,000, accounting for 59.4 percent of the overall population. The percentage was on par with the record low from a year earlier.

Those 14 and under accounted for a new all-time low of 11.6 percent of the total population, while people 65 and over made up a record high of 29 percent.

Related coverage:

Japan vows to boost child allowances to tackle falling birthrate

Japan looks to scrap foreign trainee program for new system