Most Japanese want PM Abe to heed fallout over Yasukuni: poll

Left: A Shinto priest (R) leads Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) as he visits the controversial Yasukuni war shrine. Right: Demonstrators drop shoes on Japanese naval flags

TOKYO - A majority of Japanese voters want Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to heed the diplomatic fallout after his visit to a controversial war shrine, but nevertheless largely approved of his job performance, a poll showed Sunday.

In a telephone survey taken by Kyodo News on Saturday and Sunday, 69.8 per cent of respondents said the conservative leader should pay attention to the implications of his recent surprise visit to the Yasukuni shrine.

It also showed that 47.1 per cent said it was "not good" that Abe visited the shrine.

The news agency did not immediately release details of the nationwide survey, such as the number of participants.

Abe on Thursday visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which is believed to be the repository of around 2.5 million souls of Japan's war dead - most of them common soldiers, but also including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.

The visit - which came at a time when Japan's ties with China have turned particularly sour over a territorial dispute regarding islands in the East China Sea - prompted an angry reaction from Beijing, which sees the shrine as a symbol of Japan's war-time militarism.

Three Chinese government ships entered the territorial waters around the East China Sea islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, for several hours Sunday, according to the Japanese coastguard.

Seoul also reacted angrily to Abe's visit to the shrine, while Japan's ally the United States said it was "disappointed" by the prime minister's decision as it will raise regional tensions.

Japanese pundits also voiced worries that the visit could damage Tokyo's already strained ties with the key neighbouring trade partners.

However, the premier's conservative supporters hailed the visit as a major victory that showed a common sense respect that fallen soldiers deserve, and said foreign governments have no business talking about Japan's domestic affairs.

Abe himself has argued that he did not mean to offend foreign nations with the visit.

Despite the diplomatic concerns, Abe's cabinet retained a solid 55 per cent approval rating even after the controversial visit, the Kyodo survey showed.

The approval rating remained unchanged from a similar survey taken a week ago, a few days before Abe went to Yasukuni, Kyodo said, while the disapproval rating for Abe's cabinet slightly fell to 32.6 per cent from 33.0 per cent.

The poll also found that 71.2 per cent of respondents said that prefectures outside of Okinawa should host military drills involving the US Marine Corps' Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, currently deployed at Futenma Air Station in the southern island prefecture.

Okinawa reluctantly hosts most of the US soldiers based in Japan, and the Osprey is viewed in Japan as prone to accidents.

The survey was taken after Okinawa on Friday approved an unpopular relocation plan of the Futenma facility, a step that could facilitate a wider US military realignment in the Asia-Pacific region.

Abe came to power a year ago, and has kept his approval rating high with popular economic stimulus programmes, mixing big-spending and easy money policies that have cheered the market.