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Japanese runner freezes her eggs to keep dreams of motherhood alive

TOKYO - Japanese champion runner Tomomi Bitoh completed a 170km race in the Himalayas last November, and immediately made a beeline for a Tokyo clinic to begin freezing her eggs, hoping to keep alive her dream of becoming a mother.

The 33-year-old former childcare worker is one of a growing number of Japanese women joining in a trend authorities in the world's most advanced ageing society hope will stem further declines in the birthrate.

"I have this big dream of becoming number one in the world," said Bitoh, who placed second among women in the 2021 Marathon des Sables, regarded as one of the world's toughest long-distance races.

"I don't think that's something I can do 10 or 20 years from now, after having a child. It's now or never."

The average number of children born to a Japanese woman fell to a fresh low of 1.20 in 2023, data from the health ministry showed on Wednesday (June 5).

The figure marks an eighth successive year of decline and is far below the 2.07 experts consider necessary to maintain a stable population.

Japan says its demographic woes are a "quiet national emergency" that stifles growth and puts a heavy strain on its social security system.

The government, which says the difficulty of balancing a career and child-rearing are among the key deterrents to having children, has earmarked billions of dollars for efforts it hopes will reverse the trend.

So far, the signs are not encouraging.

As many as 55 per cent of single men and women in their late teens and 20s have no desire to ever have a child, an annual poll by Rohto Pharmaceutical showed in December, the first time that a majority of respondents has made that choice.

Bitoh called for more public support for families who are bringing up children, as