The 67-second video on YouTube opens with a black slate that reads, “A Message to Japan.” The video then shows a kneeling journalist, Kenji Goto, clad in an orange outfit.
Behind him, flaunting a knife, is the masked executioner from the Islamic State group whom the media has named “Jihadi John.”
Addressing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “John” issues a harrowing threat: “Abe, because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”
In response to the threat, the weekly magazines and tabloids did not mince words. Or images. Shukan Bunshun (Feb. 12) ran five monochrome photos of scenes from various Islamic State executions. Not to be outdone, Flash (Feb. 24) ran two color pages, six photos in total, of the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, which it described as “backfiring against the Islamic State by unifying the world’s resolution.”
Shukan Post (Feb. 13) acted with outrage against the Abe administration, claiming that it has been exerting pressure on the mass media and going so far as to label anyone taking a position critical to Abe as being a hikokumin (unpatriotic citizen). A week later a headline in the same magazine (Feb. 20) screamed, “The Islamic State’s terrorism against Japanese people has begun,” and described the killings of two Japanese as “payback for the frightening game — Abe’s atrocity against the Japanese people.”
Noting that U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron expanded bombing of Islamic State forces from Iraq to Syria after the murders of their citizens, Shukan Post alleges that by his statements, Abe is “making preparations for Japan to become a main player in the war against terrorism.” The magazine says such a development would be playing into the U.S.-British alliance by making Japan a proxy — just the way it was maneuvered to go to war against Russia in 1904-05.
“One hundred and some years on, it’s terrible that Japan’s standing hasn’t changed at all,” it comments. And in addition to constitutional restraints on dispatching the military overseas, no consensus of what action to take, if any, exists among the Japanese people.
“While Abe’s supporters might attempt to stir things up in the name of ‘patriotism,’ they would be taking part in a fearful game with the Islamic State while leaving Japanese people defenseless against it.” The result, it warns, “might cost Japan dearly.”
And if terrorists were to hit home, what would they target? From last week, Nikkan Gendai began enumerating a list of soft targets.
First on the list was tourist sightseeing buses; the article cited the jihadist attack at the tomb of female pharaoh Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt, in November 1997, in which eight Japanese honeymooners were killed along with 36 Swiss, six British and four German tourists.
“Bus security measures in Japan are loose — I don’t think there are any bus companies that conduct baggage inspections,” military analyst Mitsuhiro Sera is quoted as saying.
Other opportune targets might include kyabakura (cabaret clubs) (“A Japanese couple was among the 202 victims of the nightclub destroyed by a car bomb in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002”); and shrines and temples frequented by foreign tourists (“Last year more than 13.4 million foreign tourists visited Japan, and measures to protect them are full of holes”).
Nikkan Gendai also notes that the shinkansen is another potential target.
“Antiterrorist measures for Japan’s shinkansen are nonexistent,” points out Koichi Oizumi, a professor at Aomori Chuo Gakuin University and specialist in crisis management. “At Spain’s high-speed AVE, passenger baggage is checked at every station, and people who see off travelers are not permitted to approach the trains. In Japan, no checks are performed and the posting of policemen is basically cosmetic. I think passenger baggage should be X-rayed and the law changed so that police are empowered to question suspicious-looking individuals.”
Readers in Tokyo might also want to be on the alert during next Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon (“Memories of the Boston marathon bombing are still fresh,” “Most bomb components can be easily obtained at any home center”).
Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dog that did not bark in the night, insights can sometimes be gleaned from what does not appear in the media. Writing in his weekly column in Asahi Geino, former Air Self-Defense Force commander Gen. Toshio Tamogami has conspicuously held back from hawkish comments about the situation in the Middle East.
Tamogami, who was summarily fired in 2008 for publishing a magazine article that aired revisionist views about Japan’s role in the Pacific War, has previously taken a tough stand vis-a-vis Japan’s territorial disputes with China and South Korea. This week, he complains about the South Korean prosecutor’s legal proceedings against the Sankei Shimbun’s former Seoul bureau chief on charges of libeling South Korea’s president.
Whatever he may think about what occurred in the 1940s, Tamogami’s writings on military doctrine appear grounded in common sense. He understands that Japan is poorly equipped to gather intelligence, let alone project power as far away as the Middle East. Whatever the armchair generals may fantasize, he knows the notion of dispatching squads of “ninja” to extract hostages — along the lines of the rescue mission to Entebbe, Uganda, that Israeli commandos pulled off in 1976 — would be wishful thinking.
Instead of engaging in saber-rattling, Tamogami’s latest column touches on “Abenomics,” pointing out that boosting defense-related outlays is a smart move that will “stimulate the economy while safeguarding the nation.”