Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has stepped up his efforts to encourage companies to hike pay, meeting with union and business leaders as annual spring wage negotiations kick into high gear.

"For overall wage gains in Japan, it’s essential to raise pay at small and medium-sized companies, which employ 70% of workers in Japan,” Kishida said after a meeting that focused in part on the outlook for gains at smaller businesses.

"The private and public sectors will together create the conditions this summer for growth in disposable income that will outpace inflation through wage hikes and income tax cuts,” he added. The three sides last met in November.