Public sentiment about the economy and the direction Japan is taking has improved somewhat since last year, according to a study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

But the way Asia looks at Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is mixed, with highly unfavorable ratings in South Korea and China but Southeast Asia moderately favorable.

Meanwhile, the gap between young Japanese and other young Asians over Japan’s need to apologize for its wartime action is particularly wide.

“The public mood in Japan remains mostly one of dissatisfaction. Only a third of the public is pleased with the direction of the country, barely a quarter think the economy is doing well and just 40 percent are optimistic about the future, the Pew center said.

But while just 33 percent of Japanese are content with their country’s direction, that’s still 13 percentage points higher than last year, and better than the public mood in South Korea, Britain or France, and comparable to that in the U.S., it added.

Abe is seen favorably by 71 percent of the Japanese public, with no evident gender gap, generation gap, class difference or rural-urban split in his support.

Abroad, however, it’s a different story.

“Eight in 10 Malaysians and nearly as many Indonesians (79 percent), Australians (78 percent) and Filipinos (78 percent) see Japan in a positive light. However, anti-Japanese sentiment is quite strong in China, where 90 percent of the public has an unfavorable opinion of Japan, and in South Korea (77 percent unfavorable),” the center said.

Abe’s international image is mixed, with favorable ratings between 9 percent in China and 62 percent in the Philippines. His unfavorable ratings in South Korea and China were 85 percent.

“This may, in part, be a byproduct of Abe’s 2012 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which includes homage to some of Japan’s Class-A war criminals,” the Pew center said.

Asked if Japan has sufficiently apologized for its military actions during the 1930s and 1940s, only 1 percent of South Koreans, 4 percent of Chinese and about 29 percent of Filipinos, Indonesians and Australians said yes. But among Japanese, almost half — 48 percent — answered in the affirmative.

“Such views are even more prevalent among young Japanese. Seventy-three percent of those aged 18 to 29 think Japan has already asked enough for forgiveness or need not apologize at all. The contrast with the views of other young Asians is quite striking. Just 3 percent of young (South) Koreans, 4 percent of young Chinese, 31 percent of young Indonesians and 36 percent of young Malaysians are willing to drop the issue of Japanese war guilt,” the center noted.

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