Having been effectively hand-picked by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to be his successor, Shinzo Abe has some very large shoes to fill. Mr Koizumi steps down as one of the longest-serving and most popular leaders of Japan in living memory after instituting changes across the political, economic and social systems of the country. Some may have been unpopular, others have raised eyebrows, but Mr Koizumi has managed to emerge smelling of roses. Mr Koizumi and Mr Abe may have been close political allies for several years, but the incoming prime minister is also his own man. He expressed concern, for example, over the ostracism of 'old guard' members of the Liberal Democratic Party who opposed privatisation of Japan's postal system and is perceived as being more hawkish on defence. So are the reforms that Mr Koizumi leaves as his legacy safe, or will they be diluted or stiffened by the new occupant of the prime minister's official residence? 'For the next few months, while he finds his feet in the job, I expect Mr Abe to follow policies that are very similar to those of the previous administration,' said Pema Gyalpo, a professor of law at Yokohama University. 'But that may change after the upper house election in July of next year, when he will feel he has greater justification for running his own show. 'Of course, his methods are likely to be very different. 'Mr Koizumi is very forceful and has paid little attention to harmony within the party. Instead, he chose to provoke. I think Mr Abe will try to get his people working for him as a team.' Economic policies which have served well in dragging the country out of a recession that put a severe dent in corporate Japan's confidence would remain in place, he said, although the retirement of Mr Koizumi's economics guru, Heizo Takenaka, would require Mr Abe to appoint an equally able replacement to steer the recovery. Mr Abe is unlikely to go back on the postal system's privatisation and would also reiterate that whatever political differences exist between Tokyo and Beijing, the economic ties are mutually beneficial and should therefore be considered separately. 'He doesn't get emotional on this issue, like Mr Koizumi,' Professor Gyalpo said. 'He says it is important to engage China, but I expect him to go to visit the Yasukuni Shrine [honouring Japan's war dead, including war criminals] because of his personal involvement and then things will become more complicated.' Another area likely to disturb Japan's neighbours is reform of the constitution, long an ambition of Mr Koizumi. That baton will certainly be picked up by Mr Abe, who is uncomfortable the nation's basic laws were drawn up by the victorious Allies at the end of the second world war. 'Everyone agrees that Mr Abe has clear policy goals that continue Mr Koizumi's policies and take them on further, but in my opinion, many of these issues - like constitutional change, the institutionalisation of Yasukuni and the campaign to make us 'love our country' - do not constitute real matters of national interest and will do nothing to help upgrade public life,' said Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer at Hokkaido University's school of international relations and politics. 'In the fields of education, health care and social welfare, all Mr Koizumi appears to have done is cut funding, and these are the most vulnerable sectors of society,' he said. That has created an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. 'I fear that will continue under Mr Abe as he pushes this call for us to be proud patriots who love our country - even if a lot of Japanese don't actually feel that way,' said Dr Watanabe. Still, he said, Mr Abe ' has to prove to Japan that he is his own man'.