TOKYO • Japan should stop apologising for its war record, according to a majority of voters surveyed in a newspaper poll.
But they were more divided about a World War II anniversary speech by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that drew criticism from China and South Korea.
On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the war's end, Japan's nationalist prime minister expressed deep remorse over the war and said previous apologies would stand.
However, future generations should not be "pre-destined" to say sorry for Tokyo's wartime record, he added last Friday.
The poll published yesterday by Yomiuri newspaper found that 63 per cent of those surveyed agreed Japan should refrain from saying sorry in future, while 27 per cent said it should continue.
More than two-thirds supported Mr Abe's vow to uphold previous national apologies, however.
Japan's neighbours hit out at the statement by Mr Abe, the grandson of a wartime Cabinet minister, saying he failed to atone properly for Tokyo's past aggression.
Voters were divided over the speech, according to the weekend poll of 1,761 households, which found 48 per cent had a favourable view of Mr Abe's remarks against 34 per cent who did not.
Allies, including the United States and Britain, applauded his comments, and his plunging popularity appeared to get a boost, rising two percentage points to 45 per cent.
However, his speech was criticised for only indirectly echoing his predecessors' contrition over Japan's imperial march across Asia in the 20th century.
In a possible jab at the conservative leader, Emperor Akihito last Saturday said he felt "profound remorse" over World War II.
Japan's wartime history has come under the spotlight since Mr Abe swept to power in late 2012, and there was much speculation on whether he would follow a landmark 1995 statement by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama.
That statement, which became a benchmark for subsequent apologies, expressed "deep remorse" and a "heartfelt apology" for the "tremendous damage" inflicted.
Mr Abe has also faced domestic opposition over security Bills that would allow Japanese troops to engage in combat for the first time since the war.
"Mr Abe said the right thing to a domestic audience," said Associate Professor Stephen Nagy of Tokyo's International Christian University.
"It is not surprising that second- and third-generation (Japanese) don't feel obliged to apologise," he added, pointing to the country's post-war pacifism and multibillion-dollar foreign aid programmes.