The health ministry recently announced that only , babies were born in Japan in , the fewest births since official statistics began in This means that the non-immigrant population declined by nearly , people. The Japanese population grew steadily throughout the 20th century, from around 44 million in to million in The gains were primarily due to increased life expectancy, but also buoyed by families that typically had at least two children. But beginning in the late s, birth rates crashed.
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In Japanese, as in Chinese and Korean , numerals cannot quantify nouns by themselves except, in certain cases, for the numbers from one to ten; see below. These counters are not independent words; they must appear with a numeric prefix. Counters are similar in function to the word "pieces" in "two pieces of paper" or "cups" in "two cups of coffee". However, they cannot take non-numerical modifiers.
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In , a translator of children's literature named Hanako Muraoka was given a book as a keepsake by a missionary friend from New Brunswick named Loretta Shaw. Miss Shaw left Japan just as hostilities erupted, and Hanako spent the duration of the Second World War reading the book and translating it into Japanese. English was now the language of the enemy, and so she conducted her work in secret, protecting the book from harm while bombs destroyed the cities and landscapes around her.