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Japan's Unemployment Goes Down


Japan's unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent in December, but Fuji Photo Film plans to eliminate 5,000 jobs to cut costs. This and more in VOA's weekly look at business news in Japan.

The unemployment rate decreased for the third straight year. In December it dropped to 4.4 percent from November's 4.6 percent.

For all of 2005, unemployment averaged 4.4 percent, down from 4.7 percent the year before.

Labor Ministry officials say the decline came largely because consumers spent more money and companies made more profits. Another favorable factor was the increase in the number of people who voluntarily left their jobs and found new ones. In fact, for the first time in 13 years, the number of job offers now is equal to those searching for jobs.

Edwin Merner, the president of Atlantis Investment Corporation in Tokyo, says the fall in unemployment is another sign that Japan is recovering from more than 10 years sluggish economic performance.

"It means that the economy is getting better, and it probably will continue to get even better," Merner said. "And the demand for certain areas, certain professions, is very, very strong like, for instance, skilled engineers and skilled workers. And manufacturing is doing particularly well, which is also pushing up the demand. And the economy should continue to become better and better and stronger and stronger."

However, Fuji Photo Film, Japan's second largest film manufacturer, plans to move some of its production to China as it cuts 5,000 jobs this year. The move will eliminate one thousand jobs in Japan and 4,000 overseas.

Fuji, which also makes digital cameras, has cut its profit forecast for the year ending March 31 to $170 million, down from the original forecast of $726 million. Fuji attributed the decrease to shrinking demand for photographic film as more people use digital cameras.

Fuji joins others in the industry, including Eastman Kodak of the United States and Japan's Konica Minolta, in cutting costs to stay profitable.

Japan's Agriculture Ministry will lift its ban on U.S. potatoes between February and June of this year.

Fresh U.S. potatoes had been banned in Japan to avoid the spread of potato diseases and pests found in the United States. The U.S. has guaranteed it has both problems under control. The imports will come from 13 states.