Japanese stocks slumped into negative territory after data showed machinery orders fell more than three times faster than expected in December.
Machinery orders, excluding those originating from shipping and electric-power utilities, fell 3.2% in December from the preceding month, well below consensus expectations for a 0.9% contraction.
In mid-afternoon trade, the Nikkei 225 Average was down 0.4% to 13,157.71, while the Topix index declined 0.6% to 1,296.89.
Analysts said some of the selling pressure was related to investors pulling up stakes ahead of a three-day weekend, with Japanese markets closed Monday for a national holiday.
Markets in Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam are shut for Chinese Lunar New Year holidays.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 1% and New Zealand's NZX-50 fell 0.8% while Thailand's SET index added 1.5%.
Analysts in Sydney said traders were looking ahead to the Reserve Bank of Australia's quarterly statement on monetary policy Monday for further clues to the outlook for interest rates. The central bank lifted interest rates a quarter percentage point Monday to 7%, the 11th straight hike since mid-2002.
In currencies, the U.S. dollar fetched 107.33 yen, compared to 107.46 yen in late New York Thursday and 106.38 yen in New York late Wednesday.