Japan shares end higher as train operators, beer makers jump on vaccine hopes

TOKYO, June 3 (Reuters) - Japanese shares closed higher on Thursday, with the broad Topix index hitting a more than six-week high, as a pickup in the country’s vaccination drive raised hopes of the economy recovering from the shackles of the pandemic.

The Nikkei share average rose 0.39% to 29,058.11 while the broader Topix clinched a 0.84% gain to 1,958.70, hitting its highest level since April 19.

“Vaccinations are moving much faster than expected, boosting hopes of reopenings,” said Hiroyuki Ueno, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management.

The number of people who have had at least one shot has topped 10 million, Japanese media reported. The government aims to finish vaccinating most elderly citizens by the end of July.

Railway companies rose in heavy trade for a second day in a row, with East Japan Railway jumping 3.4% and Central Japan Railway adding 2.3%.

Reopening bets boosted Tokyo Disney Resort operator Oriental Land, which added 1.4%, as well as beer and beverage makers.

Kirin Holdings rose 4.2% while Asahi Group inched up 2.3%. Suntory jumped 5.6%.

Another heavily-traded sector was car makers, which have been gaining momentum on strong demand recovery worldwide.

Toyota Motor gained 1.7%, while Honda Motor rose 2.1% and Nissan Motor picked up 1.5%.

Food company Ajinomoto vaulted 3.5% to a five-year high as it extended its bull runs since its latest earnings and share buyback announcement last month.

On the other hand, Fast Retailing lost 4.1% after the operator of Uniqlo casual clothing change said its domestic sales declined 0.6% in May from a year a earlier, the first fall in a year.

The sizable drop in Fast Retailing, which has the biggest weight in the Nikkei, curbed the Nikkei’s gains compared to Topix.

Elsewhere, some of this year’s biggest gainers also dropped on profit-taking, with shippers subindex down 1.1% and steelmakers falling 0.3%. (Reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Uttaresh.V)