Japan’s unemployment rate rose to 4.9 percent in July, up 0.3 percentage point from June, the sharpest rise in six years, the government said Friday.

The government’s report apparently contradicts recent signs of improvement in the economy, though officials downplayed the seriousness of the latest reading, calling it a “temporary” development associated with moves among some people to seek better jobs under the current economic uptrend.

The margin of increase was the largest since August 1998, when the jobless rate rose 0.3 point to 4.4 percent. The unemployment rate in the reporting month was the highest since February’s 5 percent.

“We will closely monitor the situation, although we have yet to change our assessment” that the nation’s job situation is basically improving, said an official at the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry.

Private-sector economists shared the government’s view that the surge in the jobless rate in July was due to temporary factors.

“The result was a bit of a surprise, but this kind of temporary rise in jobless people is a pattern seen in past economic upturns,” said Tatsushi Shikano, a senior economist at UFJ Institute Ltd.

“I still believe the employment conditions are improving in general, but whether the labor market will be able to absorb such job-seekers is a different question.”

The number of jobless people in July totaled 3.18 million, down 240,000 from a year earlier, marking a 14th straight monthly decline, the ministry said.

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