For the fourth time in ten years, Japan's yo-yo economy has lurched back into official recession (two quarters of negative growth), driven by a marginal 0.1% decline in gross domestic product during the last quarter of 2004.

According to figures released by the government's Cabinet Office, annualised GDP fell 0.5% in the last three months of 2004, reflecting weak exports and a slowdown in consumer spending.

But, claim the politicos, things are actually getting better. Says Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Heizo Takenaka: "The economy has some soft patches but if you look at the bigger picture [it] is in a recovery stage."

Japan's economy grew 2.6% overall in 2004 and is predicted to achieve growth of 2.1% this year.

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff