Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a polarizing figure, lauded as the resolute leader Japan needs to revive its flagging fortunes and slammed for mishandling history issues in ways that undermine national interests.

The Abe conundrum is how he manages to retain a high degree of popularity despite strong public opposition to his signature policies on state secrecy, arms exports, patriotic education, collective self-defense and nuclear reactor restarts — especially now that "Abenomics" seems to be fizzling out.

The prime minister knows what imploding popular support feels like. He rode high on support during his first stint as premier (2006-07) until March 2007 when he sparked a firestorm of international criticism by quibbling about the degree of coercion used in recruiting young Koreans to work as comfort women in Japan's wartime system of sexual slavery. He subsequently sealed his fate by appearing unconcerned about lost pension records, leading the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to a drubbing in the 2007 upper house elections.