Japan's industrial production registered record output in April and two of the country's major railway companies are planning a merger.

Industrial production in Japan rose for the second month in a row in April, by a record 1.5 percent over March.

Some of the biggest increases were in semiconductor-manufacturing equipment and flat-panel displays exported to other Asian markets. Cars exported to North America and turbines for Japan's power plants also saw growth.

Japan's unemployment figure remained at a seven-year low in April. The jobless rate was 4.1 percent for the third straight month, down by 260,000 from last year.

In other news, Hankyu Incorporated, a major Japanese railway, is poised to take over its rival Hanshin Electric Railways Company.

Kazuo Sumi, president of Hankyu Holding, says this is a friendly bid.

"Please understand that our takeover bid is 930 yen - about $8 per share and this is not a hostile takeover," he said.

But for the merger to succeed, the Murakami Investment Fund, which holds a 47 percent stake in Hanshin, has to support the deal. Japanese media reports this week indicate that the Murakami Fund and Hankyu are closer to an agreement.

If Hankyu fails to buy the target 45 percent of shares, it will not purchase any stock. The offer will be good until June 19.

Hankyu ranks sixth among Japan's private railway companies in terms of sales, while Hanshin ranks 11th.

The new company will be called Hankyu Hanshin Holdings.

Toyota Motor has recalled nearly 600,000 cars around the world because of faulty steering wheel systems, which under extreme pressure could cause the driver to lose control.

More than 10 models sold between September 2002 and November 2005, including the well-known Prius hybrid car, will be recalled.

Most of the cars to be recalled were sold in Japan and the United States.

Toyota officials said there have been more than 30 complaints filed with the company since March 2004, but there have been no reports of accidents due to faulty parts.