The news that hostage Shosei Koda was found dead in Iraq was met with sympathy Sunday on the streets of Tokyo, but for many people interviewed by The Japan Times, the grief was tempered by the belief that the government was right in not succumbing to terrorists.
Near JR Tokyo Station, Masataka Suzuki, a 27-year-old company employee from Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, said he felt sorry for Koda’s family but added that it was a matter of taking responsibility for oneself.
“He must have been aware of the possibility (of being kidnapped) when he went to Iraq,” he said. “So we have no choice but to accept (his death).”
Suzuki supported the government’s stance of refusing to withdraw the Self-Defense Forces from Iraq as the militants holding Koda had demanded.
“Japan sent the SDF troops to support Iraq’s reconstruction,” he said. “As long as the purpose is right, there is no reason for Japan to pull the troops out.”
Kozo Numano, 44, an insurance company employee from Yokohama, also expressed sympathy for Koda, although he questioned his actions.
“Killing somebody cannot be justified, regardless of the reasons,” he said. “But he was too careless.”
Numano also supported Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision not to give in to the captors, saying Japan is playing an important international role by sending the SDF to Iraq.
At the same time, however, he said Tokyo should carefully consider whether to extend the SDF dispatch beyond its initial deadline of Dec. 14.
“The government should disclose more information as to what the SDF troops are doing in Iraq, how helpful it is for the Iraqi people and what the troops can do in the future,” Numano said. “Without answers to these questions, we can’t reach the right conclusion.”
Kayoko Harada, 38, a company worker from Fukuoka, said she felt sorry for Koda’s family and had been watching developments as he was a Fukuoka Prefecture native. But she said she did not understand why he went to Iraq.
While supporting the government’s resolve in not giving in to terrorists, however, Harada insisted that the SDF withdraw from Iraq according to the current schedule.
“We don’t know whether the SDF is producing positive results for Iraqi people,” she said. “I think there are other ways for Japan to help reconstruct Iraq.”
Meanwhile, a 66-year-old housewife from Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, was blunt.
“If (Koda) had gone to Iraq on business, I would have felt sympathy for him,” she said, asking that she not be named. “He was just unlucky.”
On whether the SDF should have been withdrawn, the woman said she understands the government’s policy “because his captors demanded that the troops be withdrawn within 48 hours, which was too short notice.”
But Keiko Araki, a 50-year-old housewife approached near JR Shinjuku Station, took Koda’s death close to heart.
“I am in shock,” Araki, a resident of Shinjuku Ward, said. “I can’t help but feel for his family members because I have a child of my own. I also think it is horrible that some people are criticizing the family.”
Araki pointed out that Koizumi’s vow not to give in to terrorism while Koda was held hostage was insensitive.
“Politicians think that they can say anything,” Araki said. “If they were thinking about the family, they could have chosen a different way to say it.”
The possibility of extending the SDF’s stay in Iraq also troubles her, she said.
“Think of the pain the families of the SDF personnel must feel, having to send their child or loved one into danger,” Araki said. “Just sending SDF members to Iraq without giving it much thought will not solve anything.”
Takamitsu Konno, a 54-year-old businessman from Miyagi Prefecture, expressed mixed feelings toward the death of the young hostage.
“It’s true that Koda went (to Iraq) aware of the dangers, and I have heard people say that he himself is to blame, having caused many problems for others,” Konno said. “But at the same time, he must have gone there for his own reasons and I just can’t bring myself to condemn him for his actions.”
On the government’s handling of the crisis, however, Konno said it lacked transparency and he felt a sense of distrust.
“All they kept saying was that they were collecting information,” he said. “But surely more than that was needed and should have been done.”
In regards to whether the SDF should be withdrawn from Iraq, Konno expressed concern for the Iraqi people if that were to happen, saying he believes the SDF’s activities are different from those of other countries’ troops because they are there to help local people.
“Somebody has to do it, and even if Japan were to withdraw the SDF, another country would be sacrificing the lives of its people,” Konno said. “But on the other hand, as long as the SDF remains in Iraq, similar dangerous incidents like the hostage case will continue to occur.”
In Asakusa, Taito Ward, 40-year-old Kazuhiro Kosaka, the owner of an architecture firm, said that while he feels sorry for Koda and his family, he sees this as a typical case of the lack of a sense of crisis among Japanese youth.
“I wish he would have thought a bit more before taking such action (of going to Iraq), like by reading the newspapers and understanding what is really going on,” he said.
Saying he believes the SDF should remain in Iraq for its reconstruction, he said, “I heard there are Iraqis who lived in Japan and who are now involved in drafting its constitution.
“I hope such people will be able to convince the rest of Iraq that the Japanese are really trying to help, and not interested in occupying it with the U.S., like the militants believe.”
Ahn Na Won, a 33-year-old South Korean who was visiting a friend in Tokyo, said that while the news broke her heart, it was a bit surprising for Koreans like her that the Japanese government could not save him.
“When (South Korean hostage) Kim Sun Il was killed earlier (in Iraq), we though it was because our government did not act fast enough like the Japanese government, which managed to save its hostages,” she said. “We thought Japan would be able to save Mr. Koda again this time.”
She added that while she understands the criticism that Koda didn’t take heed of the danger before going to Iraq, she said: “You can’t expect all people to be brilliant, and the government is obliged to help even those who take such ‘stupid’ actions.”
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