Promises from politicians are common and easily shrugged off, but investment pitches from the leader of the world's second-largest economy stand out, especially when they're on international cable television. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has gone nationwide in the U.S. with a campaign that asks a question that mutual fund investors may find has a satisfying answer. "We have all you need for success," he says at the end of the new commercial. "Why don't you join us? Invest in Japan." Particularly if you're looking for equity mutual funds that are outperforming a flattening U.S. market. After 13 years of stumbling economic growth, the current recovery has helped drive a rally in the major Japanese stock indices that has outpaced that of the benchmark S&P 500 by a considerable margin, prompting some analysts to say this recovery is the real thing. Driven by increased domestic consumption, confidence in the yen and an Asian economy powered by roaring Chinese growth, the current Japanese economic recovery is better balanced than in past export-led bear market rallies. Recent returns by Japan and Asia-Pacific mutual funds -- which are often heavy Japanese shares -- show encouraging results. According to fund tracker Lipper, the average Japan fund had a total year-to-date return of 13.4% and an average 12-month (since March 31, 2003) return of 70.49%. It's been a long climb back, though, with the average three-year return (since March 30, 2001) limping along at 1.42%. In comparison, the S&P 500 sagged after a fast start this year, posting a total return of 1.69% for the first three months of 2004. The index is up 35.12% for the past 12 months. Other major benchmark indices, such as Germany's Xetra DAX, which is down 2.4% for the year, don't measure up to the Japanese indices. Byron Wien, chief strategist at Morgan Stanley, is among the leading proponents of a Japanese recovery, predicting in January that the economy would pick up steam and that the key Nikkei index would rise.