People in Tokyo experienced their first planned missile drill on Monday. Hearing the siren go off, everyone in central Tokyo ran to take cover in buildings and underground.
The government planned Monday’s exercise in efforts to raise awareness about the possibility that North Korea could aim a ballistic missile at the densely populated Japanese capital. The country’s fears became palpable last year, after communist dictator Kim Jong Un fired a series of missiles over the country and into the Pacific Ocean.
The government’s response has been a new information campaign and the approval of a record defense budget.
“I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does I don’t want to do nothing, so I’m glad there is a chance to learn,” said 34-year-old company employee Akina Osawa, after taking part in Tokyo’s first missile drill.
Local governments have already held more than 100 drills, according to a report in Bloomberg. In rural areas devoid of concrete buildings or basements, people can do little more than crouch and try to cover their heads.
They know that there would only be about five minutes to take action. According to the national government, a February 2016 missile took about 10 minutes to fly from North Korea to Okinawa.
A small group of protesters turned out for the drill, waving signs that read, “Is there any point in doing this?” and “Let’s have dialogue, not war,” as police tried to shift them away from the drill site.
“This kind of meaningless training is just fanning feelings of enmity,” observed Nobuhiro Onishi, a 44-year-old elderly-care worker. He added that he doesn’t believe North Korea would actually attack Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said earlier this month that North Korea had created the worst security situation for Japan since World War II, and promised to strengthen defenses to meet the country’s real needs rather than relying on past lines. He also reportedly wants to revise the pacifist constitution to include a reference to the Self-Defense Forces.
According to Bloomberg, Japan’s budget for the financial year starting in April “includes funds for a new land-based missile defense system, which will add a third layer to its interception capabilities, as well as long-range cruise missiles that could potentially be used to attack a North Korean base.”
Many Japanese don’t seem to take the North Korean threat very seriously. For example, when residents of northern Japan received a warning that a missile was actually flying over the area in September, a government survey found that only 5.6 percent of respondents said they took shelter.
In the event of a missle attack, officials have advised citizens to move away from windows if indoors, or get to the ground and cover their heads if no shelter is available. However, most people said there was “no point” to the drills, and many admitted that they didn’t know where to go.
On Jan. 16, public broadcaster NHK issued a missile attack alert by mistake, which it withdrew shortly afterward.