The Nikkei stock index closed higher for the first time in five days, gaining 0.48 percent, as concerns over the yen's strength and tensions in Ukraine failed to stop investors buying, following news the government's pension fund plans to increase its holdings of domestic stocks.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index added 72.58 points to finish at 15,232.37, while the broader Topix index of all first-section shares gained 0.55 percent, or 6.83 points, to close at 1,258.12.
Local strategists said that the U.S. dollar dropping into the lower 102 yen some spurred investors to offload issues in the morning session, compounded by ongoing concerns about tensions in Ukraine and on fears a move by Russia to ban some imports on countries including Japan that have sanctioned it may affect global economies.
Also economic woes in Europe resurfaced, adding to early selling brokers here said, as data showed that Italy, the eurozone's third- largest economy, slipped into recession for the third time since 2008 in Q2.
The latest statistics from Italy's ISTAT agency showed gross domestic product unexpectedly dropped by 0.2 percent in the April- June period, from the previous three months, in contrast to the 0. 2 percent increase forecast by median economists.
Italy's economy also shrank by 0.1 percent in the January-March period, meaning it has returned to a "technical recession," following two successive quarters of contraction.
"News about Italy's economy took the market here by surprise and did little to help shift investors from a risk-averse mood yesterday," said one local equities strategist. "Stocks here are responding more and more to overseas markets, but new of the GPIF' s (Government Pension Investment Fund) plans, helped turn the market positive today," he said.
The GPIF is Japan's biggest pension fund and it plans to increase its holdings of domestic stock to more than 20 percent from its current 12 percent, ahead of median analysts' expectations for spending to increase the fund's holding to exactly 20 percent.
Local brokers said the news was well received by the market here and helped turn sentiment positive as the market had been a long time in wait for some positive cues to trade on, following a five- day losing streak.
Takuya Takahashi, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities Group Inc. said that he wasn't sure how much beyond 20 percent the GPIF is planning to invest, but that the news was good for the market.
"I'm not sure how much beyond 20 percent they may go for stocks, but it's positive news and came when the market was looking for a catalyst."
"The market is reacting strongly because it's fallen a lot. Everyone was ready to jump on good news because the fundamentals aren't bad," Takahashi said.
Non ferrous metals comprised one of the best performing sectors Thursday, with Mitsui Mining & Smelting advancing 1.7 percent to 299 yen and Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. gaining 1.8 percent to 1,691 yen.
Photography and imaging company Fujifilm leapt 5.4 percent to 3, 089 yen, following news that its U.S. affiliate MediVector Inc. in Boston is in talks with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to file an application to start using the firm's drug in humans to treat Ebola, a U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson said.
If the tests prove successful, the drug would become one of the first allowed by the FDA to fight the disease, which is rampant in West Africa with the death toll rising daily.
Meiji rocketed a record 12 percent to 8,340 yen, after reporting net income increased 13 percent in the quarter to 7.4 billion yen. The firm also said its operating profit jumped 14 percent on year to total more than 10 billion yen.
But Mitsui Fudosan, the nation's largest real estate agent, lost 1.3 percent to 3,268 yen, after reporting its quarterly net income dropped 6.2 percent to 15.7 billion yen from a year earlier.
Gaming issues ended mixed, with Square Enix Holdings surging 7.8 percent to 2,232 yen, following the game developer increasing its group net profit outlook in the April-September period to between 2.6 billion yen and 4.5 billion yen.
Meanwhile DeNA Co., a mobile game and social-media service provider, tumbled 7.1 percent to close at 1,211 yen, after the firm said its now projects its Q1 net income to plummet 64 percent to 6.6 billion yen from a year earlier.
Trading volume on Thursday rose to 2.21 billion shares on the Tokyo Exchange's First Section, up from Wednesday's volume of 2.11 billion shares, with advancing issues outnumbering declining ones by 1,213 to 488.