(Reuters) - Approval ratings for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan edged higher, according to the first opinion poll taken since a deadly quake and tsunami struck the nation, but his cabinet got low marks for its handling of a crisis at a stricken nuclear power plant.
More than 58 percent disapproved of how the government was dealing with the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, a survey by Kyodo news agency showed on Sunday.
More than half, however, approved of the government rescue and relief efforts in the battered northeast and more than two thirds favored a tax rise to pay for the reconstruction.
Kan's approval rate rose to more than 28 percent from around 20 percent in the previous mid-February survey.
Prior to the March 11 quake, which triggered a deadly tsunami that killed more than 10,000 and turned the Fukushima plant into a radiation-leaking wreck, Kan faced opposition trying to force him to call an early election and critics within his own party pressing him to quit.
The government, last week estimated direct material damage from the catastrophe could top $300 billion, making it the world's costliest natural disaster, but has yet to say how much it will spend on reconstruction and how it will finance it.
So far officials have assured no new taxes were planned, though Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano hinted last Friday the government could drop its plan to cut corporate tax as part of its efforts to save funds for Japan's biggest rebuilding push since the post-World War Two reconstruction.
Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano was careful not to broach the tax issue at his regular news conference on Sunday.
"We need to first set firmly the vision and direction of the rebuilding efforts and share them with people in the affected areas," he said. "This is not the time for us to mention funding issues."
Since the disaster, the pressure on Kan has faded as critics inside and outside the ruling party tried to avoid the appearance of exploiting the crisis for political gain.
Kan has kept a low profile since March 11 and the media and opposition politicians have muted their criticism of Japan's government just after the disaster. But two weeks into the nuclear crisis they are growing more vocal, a prelude to fiercer attacks that will come when the crisis fades.
Kan's resignation could possibly clear the way for a rejigged ruling coalition and break a parliamentary deadlock that has stalled attempts to tackle Japan's long-running problems: lacking economic dynamism and ballooning public debt.
But pessimists wonder if any replacement of Kan -- already Japan's fifth premier since 2006 -- would do any better.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)