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Japan's Economy Leaps Forward


The Japanese economy records its fastest growth in 16 years, while Honda Motor Corporation plans to open its sixth plant in North America.

The Japanese government says the nation's economy expanded by 3.2 percent in the year that ended March 31, the fastest annual rate of growth since 1991. A government report says consumers and companies were more optimistic in April than they have been in the past 16 years.

Kaoru Yosano, Japan's economic and fiscal policy minister, said he was upbeat, because corporate profits were strong. But he also alluded to the economy's fragility.

Yosano says Japan needs to keep an eye on (to keep monitoring) the U.S. dollar, the Chinese yuan and crude oil prices. He says any change in these factors would have a major impact on Japan's economy.

He added that consumers and companies spent more, which led to strong imports. Imports reached a record high of $52.9 billion in March, mainly because of the increased demand for semi-conductors and other electronics parts.

Honda Motor Corporation, Japan's second largest carmaker, is also expanding. The company plans to spend $400 million to build its sixth assembly plant in North America, creating 1,500 jobs.

Honda will also build its first new factory in Japan in 30 years, and an engine plant in Canada.

The company is responding to the increased demand in North America for smaller, fuel-efficient cars due to rising gasoline prices, but did not say where the new plant would be located. The company already has two plants in the U.S. state of Ohio, and one each in the state of Alabama, in Ontario, Canada, and in Mexico.

Honda says it expects the new North American factory to produce about 200,000 small cars a year, beginning in 2008. It said it anticipates its global car sales will increase to four million by 2007-2008, from 3.4 million in 2005-2006.

Japanese consumers will soon be able to breathe their fatigue and stress away with canned oxygen, according to convenience store operator Seven-Eleven Japan.

The chain company will market two types of canned oxygen in 3.2 liter cans, priced at $5.50 each. One type will have "aroma sheets" soaked with peppermint oil, and the other one will use grapefruit oil.

The oxygen will be sprayed into a transparent plastic mask, and then breathed in.

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