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Rising Exports Help Japan's Economic Recovery - 2004-03-19

Rising exports and consumer spending are helping Japan's economic recovery and some of the country's top automakers agree to pay higher bonuses.

The Japanese government says rising exports and a boost in consumer spending are helping to support the strongest economic recovery Japan has experienced in more than a decade. Tokyo gave an upbeat economic assessment in its monthly report for March, noting that both exports and personal spending are gaining ground.

The overall assessment was unchanged from February, but the government used more optimistic language this time around. It said a further upgrade would require evidence that unemployment is falling and that the recovery is spreading through all sectors of the economy.

Economy and Financial Services Minister HeizoTakenaka told reporters that while he is pleased with the improvement, he remains cautions.

Mr. Takenaka says the economy continues to recover steadily, but he adds the government will do what it can to encourage more spending.

According to a poll by the Kyodo news agency, about one third of Japan's top companies say they will hire more college graduates in 2005, compared with this year. In recent years, even highly qualified graduates have had difficulties finding employment because of the sluggish economy.

Toyota Motors, the country's top automaker, and Sharp, the electronics giant, are among those recruiting more junior staffers thanks to robust sales.

Some major Japanese automakers have agreed to boost employees' annual bonuses, thanks to healthy earnings.

Honda, Mazda, and Nissan will pay an amount equivalent to about six months' pay to all union employees. But there are no plans to increase base salaries, despite the companies' healthy performances.