While there are some encouraging numbers in Japan's latest trade data, other indicators point to the possibility of the country falling back into recession. Meanwhile, a Japanese consumer products firm says relief from the feared bird flu virus may be no farther away than a blast of purified air.

Demand for Japanese automobiles has helped boost exports for the 17th month in a row. The Finance Ministry says exports rose 7.5 percent in April.

But imports are rising at a faster pace than exports, and the surplus in the trade balance is continuing to fall. In addition, economists say the money supply is slowing, and bank lending continues to drop. And the Cabinet Office says preliminary data show that a key economic gauge was more than five percent below the boom-or-bust line of 50 percent in April. It had been up to about 73-percent the previous month.

The government is also reporting that overall household spending fell three-percent in April, compared to the same month a year ago. Personal consumption accounts for about 55-percent of Japan's gross domestic product.

These are all considered warning signs about the fragile state of Japan's economic recovery. Japanese news media have quoted unnamed government officials as warning that the country could be in for another recession.

Sharp Electronics of Japan has announced that a certain type of air purifier appears to be effective in killing the bird flu virus, which health experts fear could lead to a deadly international pandemic.

Sharp spokesman Yasuhito Nakagawa says the technology has neutralized micro-organisms in the air under laboratory conditions. But Mr. Nakagawa said the company could not guarantee the technology's effectiveness against the virus, because of the potential dangers involved in carrying out a real-life test.

"We used the real virus. We have proved that technology is effective to inactivate dangerous viruses, but we cannot prove it in a real environment," he said. "Please imagine if we sprayed dangerous viruses in your office. It could be very dangerous."

Nevertheless, British researchers working with Sharp say the technology has also proven effective against more than 25 other kinds of viruses, bacteria, molds, and allergens.

Consumer electronics stores and travel agents here are celebrating the country's 2-0 soccer victory over North Korea Wednesday, which has put Japan in next year's World Cup finals in Germany.

Analysts say they expect domestic sales of large-screen liquid crystal and plasma display televisions to surge in advance of the finals. And for those not satisfied with watching the games on television there will be plenty of package tours to Germany.

Stocks in consumer electronics makers and travel companies soared on the Tokyo Exchange the morning after the Japanese victory.