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Japan's Finance Ministry Reports Economy Recovering

Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki says Japan's economy is firmly recovering, but he says high crude-oil prices are a potential risk to growth.

The comment came after the release of new economic data, which was cheered by analysts.

Japan's jobless rate in April fell a 10th of a percent to 4.4 percent. That is the lowest level since the end of 1998.

Construction orders by major contractors rose 7.5 percent in April to total nearly $8 billion. That is the second straight monthly increase.

Despite the positive economic indicators, there is concern about a drop in household spending, which fell more than three-percent in April compared with a year earlier. But the decline is slightly smaller than many economists had expected.

The Japanese government on June 1 kicked off a summertime campaign to save energy amid global warming by urging white-collar workers to dress more casually.

Environment Minister Yuriko Koike is a major backer of the of the so-called "Cool Biz" campaign. Ms. Koike says government ministers and bosses in the private sector have to take the lead by shedding their neckties and suit jackets. But she warns them to have good fashion sense and not wear anything undignified.

Major clothing retailers are hoping the new campaign will prompt casual shirts and pants to fly off the racks. Some economists say "Cool Biz "could spark sales totaling $1 billion. Sales of business suits and other men's wear fell nearly six-percent in the last fiscal year.

The number of retail stores in Japan is continuing to decline. The government ministry overseeing business (the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) says the trend toward large retailers has reduced the total number of stores to below $1.25 million. That is a drop of nearly five-percent from 2002 and the lowest total since 1958.

One of America's top coffee retailers is teaming with a Japanese beverage giant. Suntory says it will soon begin producing and distributing Starbucks-branded chilled coffee products in the Japanese market.

Starbucks has made a name for itself in urban Japan by opening hundreds of outlets since it came into the market nearly nine-years ago. The expansion by the Seattle-based chain into the refrigerators of other outlets comes as Japan's cold-coffee-drinks market has turned hot - growing five-percent last year.