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Japanese to Koizumi: change tone toward China

A poll shows growing public opposition to controversial Tokyo war-shrine visits.

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The Japanese public is becoming increasingly critical of their government's fractious relations with Beijing.

Rising anti-Japanese sentiment in China - sparked by controversial Japanese history textbooks - has frustrated many Japanese. And in the wake of angry public demonstrations in China, calls for a boycott of Japanese goods, and China's abrupt cancellation of high-level meetings last week, sentiment is growing that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should take a more conciliatory approach to Japan's largest trade partner.

Beijing has protested what it calls the whitewashing of Japan's wartime aggression in school texts, and pointed to recent comments from Mr. Koizumi that he intends to continue his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the war dead, including recognized war criminals.

Until recently, a majority of Japanese citizens seemed to be moderately in favor of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni. But according to a Kyodo News poll last weekend, 58 percent of Japanese now oppose Koizumi's yearly trips to the shrine - a surge of 17 points from a similar survey last December. A number of other polls show a similar shift.

Tetsuro Kato, a political science expert at Japan's Hitotsubashi University, says the growing opposition to the visits "results from the heightened tension among countries in East Asia and a general sense of apprehension surrounding (these relations)."

The rising frustration, however, comes not just from the general population, but also from influential businessmen and those affiliated with the Komeito party - a Buddhist-backed partner in the governing coalition.


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