TOKYO, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei share average changed course to trade higher on Thursday as a weaker yen prompted investors to buy Toyota Motor and other exporter stocks.

The Nikkei was up 0.45% to 35,637.01 by the midday close, after opening 0.3% lower.

The broader Topix was up 0.23% at 2,502.13.

"Investors appreciated the weaker yen," said Shuji Hosoi, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

"Today's gain was led by foreigners who scooped up large stocks."

Toyota Motor rose 3.64% to become the top gainer on the Nikkei. The index for automakers jumped 2.96% to become the top performer among the 33 industry sub-indexes on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Tyre makers rose 2.81%, with Bridgestone and Toyo Tire gaining 3.15% and 4.35%, respectively.

The dollar held close to a one-month peak versus major peers on Thursday after robust U.S. retail sales data overnight added to building expectations the Federal Reserve will not rush to lower interest rates.

A softer yen helps exporters as it raises the value of overseas profits in yen terms when firms repatriate them to Japan.

Chip-testing equipment maker Advantest rose 2.98% to give the biggest boost to the Nikkei. Chip-making equipment maker Tokyo Electron rose 1.14%.

Uniqlo-brand owner Fast Retailing rose 0.9%.

However, investors were cautious about sharp gains in the benchmark index, capping a further rise in the current session, strategists said.

The Nikkei rose 8% since the beginning of this year to hit its highest since February 1990 during the previous session. The session ended 0.4% lower.

Video game maker Nexon fell 4.9% to become the worst performer on the Nikkei.

Marketplace site operator Mercari fell 3.44%.

Of the 225 Nikkei components, 120 rose and 101 fell, with four trading flat. (Reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by Sohini Goswami)