Exit polls: Conservative LDP wins Japan election
Ishihara was the one who stirred up the latest dispute with China over the islands when he proposed that the Tokyo government buy them from their private Japanese owners and develop them.
Nuclear energy ended up not being a major election issue even though polls show about 80 percent of Japanese want to phase out nuclear power after meltdowns last year at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami.
In the end, economic concerns won out, said Kazuhisa Kawakami at Meiji Gakuin University.
"We need to prioritize the economy, especially since we are an island nation," he said. "We're not like Germany. We can't just get energy from other countries in a pinch."
The staunchly anti-nuclear Tomorrow Party — which was formed just three weeks ago —captured between six and 15 seats, NHK estimated.
The LDP is the most pro-nuclear party, and has said Japan should decide over the next 10 years what sort of energy mix is best.
Abe, 58, is considered one of the more conservative figures in the increasingly conservative LDP.
During his previous tenure as prime minister, he pursued a nationalistic agenda pressing for more patriotic education and upgrading the defense agency to ministry status.
It remains to be seen how he will behave this time around, though he is talking tough toward China, and the LDP platform calls developing fisheries and setting up a permanent outpost in the disputed islands, called Senkakus by Japan and Daioyu by China — a move that would infuriate Beijing.
During his time as leader, Abe also insisted there was no proof Japan's military had coerced Chinese, Korean and other women into prostitution in military brothels during Japan's wartime aggression in Asia. He later apologized but lately has suggested that a landmark 1993 apology for sex slavery needs revising.
He has said he regrets not visiting Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Japan's war dead, including Class-A war criminals, during his term as prime minister. China and South Korea oppose such visits, saying they reflect Japan's reluctance to fully atone for its wartime atrocities.
The LDP wants to revise Japan's pacifist constitution to strengthen its Self-Defense Forces and, breaching a postwar taboo, designate them as a "military." It also proposes increasing Japan's defense budget and allowing Japanese troops to engage in "collective self-defense" operations with allies that are not directly related to Japan's own defense.
It's not clear, however, how strongly the LDP will push such proposals, which have been kicked around by conservatives for decades but usually make no headway in parliament because they are supported only by a fairly small group of right-wing advocates.
"The economy has been in dire straits these past three years, and it must be the top priority," Abe said in a televised interview. "We must strengthen our alliance with the U.S. and also improve relations with China, with a strong determination that is no change in the fact the Senkaku islands are our territory."