Tokyo - Japan's trade deficit narrowed 8.3 percent year-on-year to $8.9 billion in May as imports fell for the first time in 19 months, data showed Wednesday.

Japan logged a deficit of 909 billion yen ($8.9 billion), smaller than the previous year's shortfall of 991.3 billion yen but a red-ink figure for the 23rd consecutive month, finance ministry data showed.

Imports fell 3.6 percent to 6.5 trillion yen, the first year-on-year drop in 19 months, due partly to lower purchases of crude oil.

Exports dropped 2.7 percent to 5.6 trillion yen, turning down for the first time in 15 months with shipments of refined fuel and cars falling.

Japan's purchases of natural gas remained high to plug the resources-poor country's energy gap after the 2011 Fukushima crisis forced the shutdown of nuclear reactors, which once supplied a third of the nation's power.

But crude oil purchases in May fell by 15.1 percent in value and by 19.3 percent in volume.

Japanese domestic demand for gasoline and other products picked up in the months before the April sales tax hike from 5.0 percent to 8.0 percent. - Sapa-AFP