National

Student trip to Guam canceled amid North Korea missile fears

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Concern over the North Korean missile threat has led to the cancellation of a school trip to Guam, while local governments in Kyushu and northern Japan held or announced plans for local evacuation drills.

About 280 second-year students at Oita Hofu Senior High School in the city of Oita won’t be going on a trip to Guam that had been scheduled for October. Principal Yasushi Sonezaki said Thursday the decision was made after taking into account the international situation — especially North Korea’s threat to launch missiles to the waters near Guam. He said the school had to take into account students’ safety and parents’ concerns.

Staff at the school are discussing plans for a new trip within Japan.

“The cancellation was a big disappointment for everyone, as the kids were really looking forward to going to Guam. But they were convinced (of the need to cancel) and we’re thinking about the next step,” Sonezaki said.

Also in Kyushu Thursday, Kamiamakusa, a city with a population of about 28,000 in Kumamoto Prefecture, conducted a missile evacuation drill with about 850 residents, including 220 children. Kumamoto officials reported no problems with communicating alerts to participants — unlike similar drills earlier this month in Shimane and Okayama prefectures, where technical glitches occurred.

During the drill, participants received alerts over loudspeakers and electronic notifications of a possible missile launch and were directed to evacuate immediately. People then took shelter, covering themselves to avoid the blast.

Three other cities have announced they will hold drills on Sept. 1, which marks Disaster Prevention Day and the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Traditionally, Tokyo and many other municipalities hold evacuation drills in response to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and typhoons. But there’s now growing interest in holding drills for simulated missile attacks.

In Hokkaido, Takigawa and Iwamizawa will hold missile evacuation exercises that day, as will Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture, where the Air Self-Defense Force’s Shariki sub base hosts an X-band radar system that can track the trajectory of ballistic missiles, allowing for the launch of ground- and sea-based interceptors in the event that any threat is detected.

The central government has encouraged local governments around the country to prepare for the missile threat. Since March, when Oga, Akita Prefecture, conducted Japan’s first-ever evacuation drill simulating a North Korean missile attack, other cities and towns have carried them out or expressed an interest in doing so.

The heightened tensions in East Asia over North Korea’s ongoing nuclear provocations and fears domestically of a missile striking Japanese territory haven’t kept foreign travelers from visiting Japan.

Preliminary figures from the Japan National Tourism Organization show that 2.68 million overseas visitors came to Japan in July, a 16.8 percent rise from the previous year. The figure includes 644,000 visitors from South Korea, up 44.1 percent from July 2016, and 780,000 people from mainland China, a 6.8 percent increase also from July last year.

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