Friday's Tankan also offered up some positive news with large Japanese firms planning to boost their capital spending by 6.8% on-year through March, suggesting they see a pickup in the economy going into next year.

The index for large, non-manufacturers such as real estate and telecom firms also stayed in positive territory in the survey.

Japan's economy has been hit hard by financial turmoil in Europe, an export-sapping strong yen and a diplomatic row with major trade partner China, dousing hopes it had cemented a recovery after last year's quake-tsunami disaster.

The nation's central bank has launched two major policy easing measures since September after its counterparts in the US and Europe also took steps to fight a slowdown in the global economy.

But critics, notably among them Abe, have called on the BoJ to take a more aggressive stance to spur growth.

Abe, head of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and a former prime minister, has repeatedly vowed to press the bank on the issue if he is elected to Japan's top political job.

He said he wants the central bank to buy government bonds -- effectively printing money -- to generate inflation, in a bid to drag Japan out of the deflationary spiral that has haunted its economy for years.

While the bank in October expanded its asset-buying program by 11 trillion yen (US$135 billion) to 91 trillion yen it decided last month to hold off any new measures despite warning the economy was "expected to remain relatively weak for the time being".

Abe's comments and expectations he will be successful on Sunday have helped send the yen tumbling against the dollar and the euro.

Adding to the economy's more recent woes is a diplomatic row between Tokyo and Beijing over an East China Sea island chain that sparked a consumer boycott of Japanese products, including key exports such as cars and electronics.

Peter Brieger, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012