image_pdfimage_print sense of security? Experts weigh the threat that terrorism poses Japan | The Japan Times Special To The Japan Times

Widely regarded as a safe place to live, Japan currently sits in ninth position on the Global Peace Index’s list of the most peaceful nations on the planet. The East Asian nation is generally believed to be an orderly society that has incredibly low homicide and assault rates, and it certainly doesn’t feel very dangerous walking around the center of Tokyo late at night.

Has this relatively sedate atmosphere lulled the country into a false sense of security when it comes to preventing acts of terrorism?

Despite being labeled an enemy by the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS), Japan is not typically considered to be at risk of terrorism, due in part to its largely pacifist global stance and strict immigration laws. As we’ve seen in past, however, acts of terrorism that have been carried out by groups or lone-wolf operatives can happen anywhere, even in locations that are considered safe. A case in point being the 2011 massacre at a summer camp on the island of Utoya in Norway, where Nazi sympathizer Anders Behring Breivik murdered 69 people after earlier killing eight in a bombing in Oslo.

The worst terrorist assault in modern Japanese history occurred 22 years ago this month when the Tokyo subway system was targeted with toxic chemicals. Five men traveling on three different train lines during rush hour punctured and then dropped plastic bags containing the nerve gas sarin on March 20, 1995. Within hours of the incident, 12 people had died and about 5,000 commuters had sought medical attention. The number of fatalities would have been far higher had the sarin been pure.

The U.S. Department of State added North Korea to its list of “state sponsors of terrorism” in 1988 following the bombing of a South Korean airliner that killed 115 people a year earlier. It was removed from the blacklist in 2008 by the administration of George W. Bush, but there are now increasing calls to increase sanctions in light of the alleged state-sponsored murder of Kim.

The fact that such a volatile and unpredictable regime exists so close to home is obviously a concern for the Japanese government. Last year, the country’s Civil Defense Agency issued a downloadable pamphlet titled “Protecting Ourselves against Armed Attacks and Terrorism” that provides information on land invasions and ballistic attacks as well as a special section on what citizens should do in the case of a nuclear attack. Already this year, North Korea has fired five short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan, including one during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to America in February.

“Considering the launch was immediately after the Japan-U.S. summit meeting, this is a clear provocation to Japan and the region,” CNN quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying. Abe described it as “absolutely intolerable.”

The situation with North Korea has often been cited by the Liberal Democratic Party as one of the main reasons it believes Article 9 of the Constitution should be amended. The potential threat posed by the Islamic State group is another factor in Abe’s push to modify the document, allowing for the use of collective self-defense and military action if one of Japan’s allies is attacked.