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Nikkei ticks up, defensive shares shine as trade war worries cast shadow

TOKYO, April 16 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei share average eked out small gains on Monday on relief that U.S.-led strikes on Syria appeared to be a one-off event though lingering caution about a trade war had investors flocking to defensive shares.

"Assuming that it was a one-off attack and there will be no additional strikes, I think Tokyo market reaction will be limited. It was within expectations and was already priced in the market," said from Itsuo Toshima, market analyst at Toshima & Associates.

Nikkei rose 0.26 percent to 21,834 while the broader Topix gained 0.19 percent to 1,732.64.

Defensive and domestic demand-oriented shares led the gains as investors are not fully convinced that a trade war can be avoided in the wake of the U.S.-China tariff standoff, and as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sets off to Washington this week to discuss trade and North Korea.

Drugmakers rose 1.5 percent while retailers gained 0.9 percent. Food companies were up 0.8 percent.

On the other hand, steelmakers and non-ferrous metal companies both fell 0.7 percent while shippers dropped 0.6 percent.

Nikkei volatility index fell to a 10-week low of 17.75, with investors showing little signs of concerns over the plunge in Abe's ratings.

Many investors still think Abe is likely to survive although some now question whether he can win his third term as the head of the main ruling party in September, and thereby remain in office. (Reporting by Hideyuki Sano Editing by Shri Navaratnam)