Japan's recession woes deepened as a record plunge in exports added to fears on Wednesday that Asia's largest economy is becoming one of the biggest victims of the global crisis.
Japan's reliance on foreign markets to drive its recovery from a decade-long slump has left it particularly vulnerable to the global economic downturn, which has crushed demand for its cars, televisions and high-tech goods.
The trade deficit ballooned to an unprecedented $9.9 billion in January as exports plunged 45.7 per cent from a year earlier, the finance ministry reported.
It was the worst month since comparable records began in 1979, marking a dramatic shift in fortunes for Japan's economy, which used to enjoy large surpluses thanks to brisk demand for its high-tech products.
Once seen as relatively immune to the global downturn, Japan's economy has become one of the worst affected, exposing the fragility of its export-led rebound after the 1990s recession.
"Japan is particularly vulnerable to this downturn because trade is so central to the economy," World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy told reporters on a visit to Tokyo.