TOKYO, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Despite sky-high palladium prices, Japanese automakers are expected to show steady demand for the metal this year since they consider it indispensable for coping with stricter emission regulations, traders said. Concerned about the metal's price and long-term availability, carmakers have been searching for ways to use less palladium in autocatalysts, but the effort will likely take a few more years to pay off, they said.