The preliminary Markit/Nikkei manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for Japan climbed to 52.8 in November from 52.4 in October, beating expectations for a decline to 52.1. It was the highest level since March 2014.
A reading below 50 indicates contraction of activity.
The index was partly driven by a rise in new orders.
"Latest survey data pointed to a substantial improvement in operating conditions at Japanese manufacturers. Growth in production accelerated to the sharpest since March 2014, while new orders increased at a marked rate," economist at Markit, Amy Brownbill, said.