Falling fertility fears in Japan
"Japan's population declined last year for the first time since 1945. Experts had long predicted the shift, but it came two years earlier than forecast.
"It's an extremely tough figure," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters, adding the need to cope with the problem.
"It will become one of the most important items on the policy agenda."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a front-running candidate in the race to succeed Koizumi when he steps down in September, highlighted the consequences of the low birth rate.
"The trend towards having fewer children will have grave impact on the economy and society as it slows economic growth, increases the burden for social security and taxes, and reduces the vitality of regional society," he told a news conference."