Ongoing tensions in Ukraine also sapped investors' appetite for risk. Ukraine gave pro-Russian separatists a Monday morning deadline to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" by its armed forces, raising the risk of a military confrontation with Moscow.
European Union foreign ministers will hold talks later on Monday about tougher sanctions against Russia.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 0.2 per cent, pulling further away from five-month highs hit on Thursday.
But Japan's Nikkei stock average reversed initial losses and ticked up 0.3 per cent, clawing its way off six-month lows after shedding 7.3 per cent last week. That was their biggest weekly fall since devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
Gains were likely to be tentative, though, as some investors braced for the possibility of further losses on Wall Street.
S&P 500 e-mini futures were down about 0.2 per cent early on Monday. US stocks slid in a volatile session on Friday, with the Nasdaq closing below the 4,000 mark for the first time since early February as investors bailed out of high-flying technology and biotech shares.
The low-yielding yen benefited from the heightened risk aversion. The dollar was down about 0.1 per cent in early trading at 101.56 yen, after touching a 3-1/2 week low of 101.32 yen on Friday, a far cry from a 2-1/2 month high of 104.13 yen set on April 4.
The dollar index steadied, rising about 0.2 per cent to 79.633, though April 4's seven-week high of 80.599 remained a distant memory after the greenback's battering last week as US stocks tumbled.
The dollar simply moved to the lower end of its ranges. This means that the greenback may do a bit better in the days ahead as participants will likely be denied fresh incentives.
The dollar got some help against the euro from European Central Bank officials, whose comments rekindled speculation about more easing in the euro zone.
The euro fell about 0.3 per cent to 140.66 yen. Against the dollar, it shed about 0.2 per cent to $1.3851, moving away from a 3 1/2 week peak of $1.3906 hit on Friday.
ECB President Mario Draghi on Saturday told a news conference that "a further strengthening of the exchange rate would require further stimulus.
The ECB is ready to make asset purchases if it deems them necessary to counter a prolonged period of low inflation, ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said on Sunday. ECB governing council member Christian Noyer said on Monday in an interview with daily newspaper Le Figaro that euro weakening was desirable.
Spot gold benefited from the move toward safe-haven assets, adding about 0.6 per cent to $1,326.50 an ounce, after earlier marking a new three-week high.
US crude for May delivery added 0.5 per cent to $104.26 per barrel, bolstered by fears that the Ukraine situation could escalate.