Major footwear chain Payless ShoeSource Inc on Thursday will take its first steps in the Japanese market in 2004 after it agrees to form a joint venture with Japan's Nichimen Corp.

The Kansas-based operator of more than 5,000 stores said in a short statement the pair will test the concept next year.

Nichimen Corp is a Japanese trading company headquartered in Tokyo, with fiscal year 2002 sales in excess of $17 billion. Nichimen Corp is a subsidiary of Nissho Iwai - Nichimen Holding Corp.