Fumihiro Kajikawa, an official in charge of information policies at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said it would start a study group consisting of about 20 Japanese electronics companies and universities on internet search engines.

The group will hold the first meeting on Friday and plans to put together an interim report by March and a final report by July, Kajikawa said.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, NTT Corp and Tokyo University are among the participants. Electronics makers Fujitsu, Hitachi and NEC will also join.

"The group will look into issues including whether Japan will start its own search engine," he said, adding that it would be a search engine for pictures.

Billions of yen

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper reported on Monday that the government planned to spend several billion yen (tens of millions of dollars) for a three- to five-year project to develop a search engine beginning in April.

"It is not that we want to play against [Google and Yahoo!]. We are thinking of something that's unique to Japan"

Fumihiro Kajikawa, official at
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

The report said Japan wanted to come up with its own version of a search engine to catch up with US companies such as Google and Yahoo! that received high profits from online advertising revenues.

Kajikawa could not confirm the report.

"It is not that we want to play against [Google and Yahoo!]. We are thinking of something that's unique to Japan," he said.

Google and Yahoo! both run search engines in Japanese.