In the October 4 Morning Edition of The Sankei Shimbun newspaper, the Seiron (“Just Arguments”) column was written by Ryukoku University Professor Sotetsu Lee, “Concern About Japan, Which Refuses to Face Reality.” It read:
South Korea’s political climate is in an apparently critical state. It seems to be an unstable country, with people who are divided according to ideologies and factions and many demonstrations occurring all the time. But it has a great deal of vigor; South Korean television series, movies, and music are sweeping over Asia and the entire world.
I tell my students, “Your life will change if you spend just one year studying like mad to master a foreign language.” They reply by asking me why they should change their lives. It seems many Japanese people do not feel the need to do so. This latent awareness is based on the premise that Japan will eternally be a peaceful and safe country like it is today, that minimal effort will always bring them enough to eat, and that there is no need to worry about the availability of medical treatment if they become sick.
However, I believe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine attests to the fact that the international community remains a jungle where survival of the fittest rules. We certainly cannot assume Japan alone will never be imperiled, or that we will always be assured the peaceful, safe environment of today.
Japan is standing at a historical crossroads in many different senses. Should we prioritize comfort? Should we maintain our global standing? Is it enough just to avoid war, even if Japan loses out to South Korea or is subjected to domineering treatment by China? Should we entrust our national security and safety to a major power, or should we obtain the ability to protect ourselves? These are the questions we face at this junction.
As Lee asserts, peace and safety cannot last forever. Global circumstances are always changing, much like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, yet many Japanese people do not feel a sense of danger about the situation in Ukraine because they assume it will not affect us at all. Considering this, I wonder if we could actually respond to a serious crisis.
I believe things happen in a cyclical fashion. Nothing lasts forever – whether it is good or bad – and shifts occur with the passage of time. We should be prepared to withstand these constant cycles, but the long span of postwar peace has made Japanese people assume peace will last as long as we wish for it. That is a severe misunderstanding.
Natural disasters also occur when they are least expected. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. It was an interplate earthquake in which land and oceanic tectonic plates collided, causing the oceanic plate to subduct and putting stress on the land plate. A great deal of upward movement resulted to relieve this stress. Specifically, the source of this earthquake was the North American and the Philippine Sea plates in the Sagami Trough. This location has caused other earthquakes of the magnitude-8 class, including the 1703 Genroku Earthquake and the 1293 Einin Earthquake. Research indicates that major earthquakes happen every 200 to 400 years. The Japanese government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion concluded there is a 70% chance that an earthquake around magnitude 7 will occur within 30 years. No large earthquakes have struck the Kanto region during the past century, but I believe we should be concerned about this possibility, considering the cycles at which these usually occur.
The number of victims has also differed greatly according to the era, time of day, and region where the earthquake occurs. The Great Kanto Earthquake was at 11:58 a.m., when many households were using fire to cook their lunches. And because many homes were made from wood, 87.1% of the people who died in that disaster were killed by the subsequent large-scale fires. Around 10% were crushed to death when their homes collapsed. During the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, 83.3% of the victims were killed by falling buildings while just 12.8% were burned to death. Among the victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, 92.4% drowned to death in the tsunami. Earthquake measures should take into consideration all of these dangers: fire, collapsing buildings, and tsunamis. Just because a disaster has not occurred for some time, we cannot assume that it never will. In particular, we must realize that the more time passes without an earthquake in Kanto, the greater the chance that it is approaching. We should consider what measures to take based on this thinking.
At the beginning of this essay I excerpted text from Lee’s Seiron column in The Sankei Shimbun. In it, he describes how Yukichi Fukuzawa spoke about the three foundations of a nation: education, newspapers, and military affairs. This was in response to enlightenment philosophers in the last years of Korea’s Joseon dynasty, who were seeking knowledge about national reform. Lee writes as follows about the Japanese educational system:
From the standpoint of a company that hires university graduates, I can confirm that students do not study at all. This is why companies do not refer to university grades during the hiring process, focusing instead on evaluations of the high schools they graduated from. Students may study extremely hard for university entrance examinations, but once they have matriculated they abandon their studies because they are automatically able to proceed forward and graduate. In the United States and other countries, it is easy to be admitted to a university but hard to graduate. That makes more sense in my opinion, but in Japanese society a person’s entire life is determined by their abilities at the age of 18. I think major reforms are needed in our existing systems, including university education.
On the topic of military affairs (Fukuzawa’s third foundation of the nation), Lee writes as follows:
South Korea’s defense budget is already larger than Japan’s. And because there is recently a culture in Japan of researchers avoiding the topic of weapons, Japan is not superior in a tangible way.
Lee points out that the low level of awareness among young people, small defense budget, and avoidance of military research all stem from the mistaken ideology that was instilled during the postwar period: the concept that military power and war preparations will draw a country into warfare.
One classic example of this mistaken way of thinking is the evacuation shelter opposition movement in Okinawa. The Okinawa Times posted an article on September 22, “‘We Don’t Need Shelters:’ Why are Okinawa Residents Protesting the Government’s Plan for a Possible Taiwan Crisis?”
Roughly 50 citizens assembled during the daytime. Joint Representative Hiroji Yamashiro explained that the Cabinet Secretariat’s FY2023 request for budgetary appropriations included expenses for research on evacuation shelters. He stated, “The evacuation shelter plan is premised on a war breaking out. We cannot allow this to happen. Let’s tell them how determined we are!”
However, let us take a look at the rest of the world. Switzerland has shelters for 100% of its population. Many European and North American nations have rates of 70% to 90% or higher. In Asia, Taiwan’s rate is 100%. It is ridiculous to say that all these countries are establishing shelters for the purpose of starting wars. The recent Russian-Ukrainian conflict demonstrates that wars sometimes break out even when great diplomatic efforts are made to avoid them. All countries build shelters and prepare to minimize damage in the event of an unexpected crisis, yet many Japanese people still lack this understanding.
Lee concludes his column by writing, “To stop this decline – and to ensure Japan remains a comfortable, peaceful, and safe country in the future – we have to do more than remake these three fields. I believe we must take a straight look at reality and make resolute efforts to change the current circumstances based on a sense of impending crisis.” In my opinion, this idea of facing reality is the most important thing.
North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) on the morning of October 4, setting off the first J-Alert warning in five years. That day, The Sankei Shimbun posted an article titled, “North Korean Missile Flies Over Japan, Sets Distance Record of 4,600 Kilometers.”
The government used the J-Alert nationwide warning system to tell people in specific areas of Hokkaido and Aomori to evacuate. At first the Tokyo islands were also subject to the evacuation. No damage has been confirmed, including to aircraft or ships.
This was the seventh time that North Korea has flown a missile over Japan, and the first since the Hwasong-12 launch in September 2017. It is also the first missile launch during the Joe Biden administration, which began in January 2021. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff believe the missile was launched from near the Mupyong-ri area of Jagang Province in inland North Korea.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a National Security Council (NSC) meeting on the morning of October 4, where related cabinet ministers gathered to discuss responses to this issue. Before the meeting he responded to the press corps by strongly criticizing North Korea, saying, “This was a reckless action. Launching a missile that passed through Japan’s skies could have had major impacts on Japan’s life and property.”
That night, film director Tatsuya Mori Tweeted, “The missile traveled in Japanese skies, but its altitude was from 800 to 1,000 kilometers. The International Space Station (ISS) is 400 kilometers high. This missile could not have been equipped with any warheads. Of course it would have caused major damage if it fell, but with that way of thinking we’d have to send a J-Alert warning every time an airplane flew over Japan.” More than 15,000 people liked his Tweet. I imagine Mori is suggesting that the J-Alert was excessive, but the fact that he compared the ISS – which travels on a geocentric orbit – to a regular airplane shows his lack of understanding regarding missiles on ballistic trajectories. He also seems convinced that missiles are not dangerous in any way, and I assume people who liked his Tweet agree with him as well. However, North Korean missile launches over Japan are dangerous acts of provocation. Many people would die if North Korea actually struck Japan with a nuclear warhead. It makes sense that the national government employs the J-Alert system when there is the possibility that a warhead-equipped missile might hit Japan. People who are too complacent about peace cannot face the reality of these missiles that threaten Japan, just like they interpret the situation in Ukraine as someone else’s problem. I believe the postwar media and educational system have done a truly terrible thing by creating this atmosphere.
October 11 (Tuesday), 6:00 p.m.