TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's exports surged for a second straight month in January as demand in Asia for cars and high-tech goods underpinned a recovery in the world's No. 2 economy.
Exports were up 40.9 percent from a year earlier to 4.9 trillion yen ($54.4 billion), the finance ministry said Wednesday. In December, exports jumped 12 percent, breaking 15 months of decline that had hammered earnings at famous Japanese manufacturers like Sony Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp.
Among regions, Asia-bound exports climbed by more than two-thirds year-on-year to 2.7 trillion yen in January.
The figures underscored the rising importance of Asian markets -- China in particular -- in Japan's economic recovery. Asia-bound shipments now account for over half of Japan's total exports.
"Booming demand in Asia continues to support a recovery in Japanese exports. It shows that a recovery in Japan's export-led economy is really depending on steady demand in Asia," said Hideki Matsumura, senior economist at the Japan Research Institute.
While recovering exports are a silver lining for Japan, the world's second-largest economy remains threatened by deflation, a strong yen and weak domestic demand after emerging last year from its worst recession since World War II.
Vehicle exports in January rose 59.2 percent with auto parts shipments surging 89.6 percent in the month, the ministry said. Japan's exports of semiconductor products also increased 83.1 percent.
Japanese exports to China soared 79.9 percent to 920 billion yen on the back of booming demand for vehicles, semiconductor products and plastic goods. It marked the third straight month of year-on-year growth.
China in 2009 surpassed the U.S. to become Japan's biggest export market for the first time since comparable figures became available in 1979.
"Robust Japanese exports to China reflected booming consumer spending and rising corporate investment in the country," said Matsumura.
Exports to the United States expanded 24.2 percent to 710.4 billion yen and those to the European Union grew 11.1 percent to 580 billion yen.
Overall imports in January increased 8.6 percent to 4.8 trillion yen, resulting in a trade surplus of 85.2 billion yen in the month, the ministry said.