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Tokyo shares lost 0.58 percent on Wednesday morning after US stocks ended mixed in a market that traders said looked overheated.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index fell 85.68 points to 14,692.83 by the break, while the Topix index of all first-section shares was 0.44 percent, or 5.33 points, lower at 1,217.39 in low-volume trading.
Investors were watching the mid-morning release of the preliminary HSBC China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which came in at 47.7 in July vs 48.2 in June, an 11-month low, suggesting a continuous slowdown in the massive economy.
"The PMI data didn't add a great deal of pessimism to the already negative market, but it may very well act as a weight," an equity trading director at a foreign brokerage told Dow Jones Newswires.
He noted that trading volumes were light.
"With several players out for the summer holiday and others waiting for confirmation of earnings results, overall activity is simply not very robust."
The currency market shrugged off news that Japan had logged a $1.82 billion trade deficit last month, reversing a small year-earlier surplus.
The dollar was trading at 99.54 yen, marginally up from 99.48 yen in New York Tuesday, while the euro fetched $1.3218 and 131.63 yen, against $1.3222 and 131.53 yen.
Kao, the parent of cosmetics firm Kanebo, fell 4.49 percent to 3,290 yen as the subsidiary said more than 2,000 Japanese had complained about skin discolouring after using its whitening products while it had also widened a consumer recall outside Japan.
China-related shares fell, with Fanuc off 0.59 percent at 15,090 and Komatsu down 1.25 percent at 2,367.