Shinzo Abe, who is Japan's first leader born after the second world war, set out a vision of "beautiful country" that can distance itself from post-war guilt that conservatives claim has deprived Japan of its history and culture.

"Our country, Japan, is a country endowed with a long history, culture, tradition and beautiful natural environment of which we can be proud before the world," Abe told parliament in his first policy speech since becoming prime minister on Tuesday.

Abe pledged to move ahead with revising the Japan's pacifist constitution and exploring a collective defence system with close ally the United States.

"I believe it's entirely possible to create a country brimming with attractiveness and vigour, while maintaining the noble virtues of the Japanese people," he said. "I aim for a country that is trusted, revered and loved by the world and asserts its leadership'.

Patriotism

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party has long campaigned to replace the constitution, which was drafted by US forces after the war, to revise phrases that ban maintaining a military for warfare.

"I will immediately engage in a revival of education to create citizens who treasure their families, their regions, their country, and life itself"

Shinzo Abe,
Japan's prime minister

He also promised to foster patriotism in the nation's classrooms.

"I will immediately engage in a revival of education to create citizens who treasure their families, their regions, their country, and life itself," Abe said.

Abe said he wanted to build trust with China and South Korea who had been angered by his predecessor's visits to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.
   
Important neighbours

"China and South Korea are important neighbours," he said. "Strengthening trust with the two is key for the Asian region and for the international community, and it is important for all sides to work to have honest, future-oriented discussions."
   
Abe has already agreed with Roh Moo-hyun, the South Korean president, that they should meet soon, and Kyodo news agency reported on Friday that the preparations were under way for him to visit Seoul in early October.
   
There is also speculation that he might meet Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, either at an Asia-Pacific leaders' gathering in Hanoi in November, or maybe even before.

Abe - who has taken a 30 per cent pay cut to demonstrate his commitment to trimming the budget - has a public approval rating of up to 71 per cent in newspaper polls published before the speech.