TOKYO (AP) _ Hit by slumping sales, Americaya, a major Japanese shoe retailer, was declared bankrupt Monday with liabilities totaling 22.3 billion yen ($184 million), a credit research agency said.

The Tokyo District Court accepted an application for protection from creditors filed by Americaya, which has been in business for 74 years, said Konoshin Taira, a researcher at Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd.

Taira said Americaya's sales had dwindled over the past several years due to the sluggish sales and competition with other retailers offering much lower prices.

A failure in the company's stock investment during Japan's easy-credit ``bubble economy'' during the late 1980s also had hurt Americaya's financial portfolios, Taira said.

The Tokyo-based Americaya, set up in 1925, has about 100 shops throughout Japan.

Many Japanese companies are struggling to stay afloat amid the country's worst recession since World War II.

In a quarterly report, the Bank of Japan said Monday that business sentiment at Japanese companies improved slightly during the past three months.