Japan says its core inflation rate — excluding food prices — edged higher in March to 2.2 percent. But taking into account a tax hike a year ago, prices remain almost flat.

The government reported Friday that the consumer price index excluding both food and energy prices was 2.1 percent, compared with 2.0 percent in February. Core inflation also measured 2.0 percent in February.

The Bank of Japan is conducting massive asset purchases to keep interest rates low and spur inflation, aiming to end years of growth-dampening deflation, or falling prices.

On Thursday, the central bank governor said his target of 2 percent inflation, excluding the effect of the April 2014 sales tax hike to 8 percent from 5 percent, is unlikely to be reached within this year.