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What Japanese think of PM Kan's response to the crisis

A new poll shows 58 percent of Japanese do not approve of the handling of the Japan nuclear crisis. Still, 58 percent do approve of overall disaster-victim support in northeast Japan.

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Instead, Kan has appointed Sumio Mabuchi, a former transport minister, as a special adviser on the nuclear crisis, as well as bringing Yoshito Sengoku, a former chief cabinet secretary, as Edano's deputy.

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Juggling disasters

While Kan focuses on attempts to avert a major nuclear accident, the death toll from the tsunami rose to over 10,000 over the weekend, adding to frustration that the relief effort is not being given enough attention by Kan's government.

“The government has to tackle these problems concurrently,” the Yomiuri editorial said. “[Kan and Edano] are taking all the work upon themselves, but they are too busy dealing with the nuclear accident to handle other issues and have become trapped in a vicious cycle.”

As government officials fend off accusations that information about radiation levels in the area is taking too long to reach residents, the news that Japan reportedly turned down a US offer, made within hours of the tsunami, to help cool down the reactors, probably won't help boost public perception.

Compared with predecessors

Still, Kan compares favorably with Tomiichi Murayama, who was prime minister when an earthquake killed 6,400 people in the western port city of Kobe in January 1995. While Kan quickly mobilized tens of thousands of self-defense force personnel, Prime Minister Murayama was widely perceived as having dithered as people lay dying beneath the rubble.

By the standards of his predecessors – perhaps with the exception of Junichiro Koizumi in his prime – Kan has used the kind of emotive language more often associated with US presidents on his few public appearances since the tsunami.

"We do not have time for pessimism,” he said recently. “We will rebuild Japan from scratch.

“We are in a situation that is testing us as a nation,” he added, and called on people to show the same unity and determination that had helped them “miraculously” recover after defeat in the war. “With the power of the people, we will rebuild this country."

It is easy to forget that just more than two weeks ago, Kan was fighting for his political life after admitting he had received donations from a foreign source in breach of Japanese funding laws.

The parlous state of the economy and the inability of the country’s divided parliament to agree on how to tackle its huge public debt saw Kan’s popularity ratings sink to about 20 percent, the lowest since he became leader last summer.

Nakano believes Kan would be foolish to ignore urgent policy issues – the budget, tax, and social security reform among them – that have been overshadowed by the tsunami and Fukushima.

For the moment, though, the scale of the challenges facing Japan has put a halt to the desire for political bloodletting that has seen four prime ministers resign since 2006.

“Whether or not Kan has succeeded in all of this will be determined by the outcome at the power plant,” says Nakano. “The doomsday scenario that some predicted has yet to materialize, so we just don’t know. It’s too premature to make a judgment."

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