The Nikkei stock index inched up 0. 07 percent Thursday, overcoming a poor lead from Wall Street overnight and lackluster Chinese manufacturing data, against the backdrop of a considerably weak yen and hopes for the export sector following some positive data.
The Nikkei 225 index edged up 12.11 points to close the day at 17,300.86, while the broader Topix index of all first-section issues rose 0.08 percent, or 1.10 points, to finish at 1,397.64.
Brokers here said that data released in the morning showing that Japanese exports grew in October at the fastest pace in eight months, in a sign that increasing global demand could be the path out of recession for Japan
The official figures showed a 9.6 percent annual rise in exports in the recording period, which was more than double the forecast of median economists. October's jump followed a 6.9 percent year-on-year increase in September's exports.
The balance in goods and trade, the data showed, remained in the red for a 28th successive month, marking the longest period since comparable data became available in 1979, but the nation's trade deficit was reduced by 35.5 percent to 710.0 billion yen, the Finance Ministry said Thursday.
The robust export data was owing to significant rises in the shipments of automobiles abroad, according to the ministry.
Shipments to the United States jumped 8.9 percent to 1,268.3 billion yen and those to China - Japan's biggest trade partner - leapt 7.2 percent to 1,229.6 billion yen. Exports to the European Union, meanwhile, grew 5.4 percent to 681.7 billion yen, the ministry said.
"The weaker yen's boost to car shipments and a recovery in Asia is driving a pickup in Japan's exports. Imports will fall from November as declining petroleum prices offset the effect of the yen's depreciation," Minoru Nogimori, an economist at Nomura Securities Co., said.
But despite the positive export data, investor sentiment was soured somewhat by private data showing that growth in China's manufacturing sector faltered in November, with output retreating for the first time in six months in the world's second-largest economy.
The flash HSBC/Markit manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) showed a contraction to a six-month low of 50.0, from a final reading of 50.4 logged in October. The latest reading came in below median analysts' forecast for a reading of 50.3, where a reading above 50 indicates expansion, while one below 50 points to contraction on a monthly basis.
But local traders said that the Japanese central bank's latest monetary easing move had caused stocks to rise here of late and hence it was no surprise that investors were now looking to take profits, especially in light of parliament being dissolved on Friday and an early election called for Prime Minister Shizo Abe to try and delay an unpopular tax hike by 18-months to April 2017.
Market players said that the weak yen was also still a catalyst for investors to chase issues, like exporters, and other large-cap issues.
"Japanese shares had been rising after the Bank of Japan expanded monetary easing, but now investors are starting to take profits. However, with the yen weakening, investors are looking for shares that benefit from a weaker currency," said Seiichiro Iwamoto, from Mizuho Asset Management Co.
In currency markets, the U.S. dollar leapt to 118.50 yen, from 118.01 yen logged in New York, marking its highest level since August 2007. A weaker yen versus its major counterparts like the U. S. dollar and the euro, give export-related issues a boost as they see repatriated profits increased on a weaker yen and their competitiveness in overseas markets boosted.
In share trade, Toyota, the world's largest automaker, accelerated 1 percent to 7,098 yen, Honda Motor Co. advanced 1.5 percent to 3,676 yen, and Mazda Motor gained 3.4 percent to 2,979 yen.
Casio Computer was a notable gainer, jumping 3.8 percent to 1, 680 yen while Canon Inc. gained 1.1 percent to close the day at 3, 676 yen. Sony game under pressure however, retreating 1.26 percent to finish at 2,410 yen.
Toray, a chemicals and textile maker, continued to attract buying, following the announcement of a 10-year deal to be inked by the end of the year worth 1 trillion yen, to supply aircraft maker Boeing with carbon fiber materials. Toray's stock rose 6.4 percent to close the day at 930 yen.
Trading volume on Thursday dropped to 2.45 billion shares on the Tokyo Exchange's First Section, down from Wednesday's 2.76 billion shares, with declining issues beating advancing ones by 883 to 788.