Japan's job availability ratio fell in January for the first time in over two years, as more people sought jobs with better working conditions amid an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Friday.

The job-to-applicant ratio dropped 0.01 point from the previous month to 1.35, marking the first decline since August 2020, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said. The ratio means there were 135 job openings for every 100 job seekers.

University students and other job seekers head into a venue holding a joint company job fair at Tokyo Big Sight in March 2022. (Kyodo)

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate in the reporting month fell 0.1 point from December to 2.4 percent, the first improvement in two months and lowest since the pre-pandemic level of February 2020, according to separate data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

The drop in the job availability ratio came as the number of people seeking work increased 0.6 percent from the previous month, while the number of jobs fell 0.1 percent.

"The employment situation is gradually picking up, although some industries have seen slow recovery in hiring," said labor minister Katsunobu Kato at a press conference.

Job offers in the information and communications sector decreased 7.3 percent from a year earlier, while those in construction firms shed 5.4 percent. But accommodation and restaurant services job offers grew 27.0 percent on the back of recovering tourism demand.

"Although companies are facing a labor shortage, soaring material prices have pressured their earnings, prompting them to hold off hiring," a labor ministry official said.

Despite recent improvements in job availability, the ratio is still below the pre-pandemic level. It stood at 1.55 on average in 2019.

The unemployment rate in January fell to the level registered in February 2020 when the country's economy was not yet affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the overall situation has not fully recovered, an official at the international affairs ministry said.

"Although we have seen improvements such as in the accommodation and hospitality sector in recent months, the extent of recovery varies by industry as the pandemic continues to have some negative impacts," the official said.

The total number of unemployed stood at a seasonally adjusted 1.67 million people in January, down 2.3 percent from the previous month, data from the internal affairs ministry showed.

Among them, 680,000 people voluntarily left their jobs, down 2.9 percent, while 420,000 people were dismissed, up 7.7 percent.

The unemployment rate was 2.6 percent for men, down 0.1 point from the previous month, while the rate for women stayed flat at 2.2 percent.