Should Japan be prepared to bomb its enemies?

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, wants to strengthen the country’s military, despite a commitment in the constitution to pacifism.

The Self Defence Force is ever vigilant against an attack by North Korea, which has previously launched ballistic missiles over Japanese territory. It is also mindful of the emerging military challenge from China.

This week, the Nikkei reports that a debate has started in the Diet about whether Japan should be able to shoot missiles at an enemy base if it believes that an attack is imminent.

Many other countries, including Japan’s ally the United States, have authorised their military to act swiftly if their nation is threatened. 

Diverging views

Japan usually follows America’s lead on all defence issues. However, there have been tensions in the alliance recently.

Japan has scrapped a plan to buy an expensive missile shield system from the US known as Aegis Ashore, following strong local opposition in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures. There are also complaints about the cost of the weapons: $4 billion dollars, double the original estimate.

Mr Abe and his supporters believe Japan should be more independent from the United States and they want to change the constitution, to convert the Self Defence Force into an international army.

Donald Trump believes that if Japan takes a bigger role in protecting itself, the US military could then shift more resources to other parts of the Indo-Pacific, such as the South China Sea.

However, this is a topic on which political opinion in Japan is sharply divided and on which people in other nations, especially South Korea and China, also hold strong views.

Beware of the monster behind the mask!

When you see people wearing a surgical face mask, do you ever wonder why they are really covering their face? 

Of course, they’re probably just protecting themselves from disease. But  could there be a more sinister reason?

Japanese horror stories suggest that a beautiful girl wearing a surgical mask, could in fact be the Kuchisake Onna, or the “slit-mouthed woman.” 

According to Gaijinpot, she approaches people at night and asks them “Watashi, kirei?” or “Am I beautiful?” 

If you answer no, she will kill you instantly. If you say yes, she removes the surgical mask and reveals her hellish, gaping mouth. 

She is apparently revenging a violent husband, so this strikes me as a somewhat misogynistic tale. 

Spooky summer

Yet in Japan, both men and women seem to enjoy ghost stories in the summer, when the spirits of the deceased are said to return to earth.

This year, some ghosts are abiding by social distancing rules, according to Harumi Ozawa, who writes for the AFP news agency.

She encountered a group of ghouls known as the Kowagaranai, meaning “a squad wanting to scare” led by an entrepreneur called Kenta Iwana, 25.

Normally they frighten people in haunted houses. But banned from making close contact, they have now set up a drive-in facility and scare people sitting inside cars.

I was surprised they had any customers, given all the recent traumas in Japan. 

But perhaps overcoming one’s horror of a visible – yet pretend – menace such as the Kowagarasetai squad might help one deal with deeper and more intangible fears. 



Japan could have done “much better” on coronavirus

I had the strong impression that Japan and South Korea have done extremely well in dealing with coronavirus. 

The death toll has been relatively low and lockdown has been largely lifted in both countries already. In recent weeks, much of the international media praised their governments.  

I was therefore surprised when I read a piece of analysis put together by the research arm of British magazine The Economist which gave them both a mediocre rating for their response to the pandemic.

Not enough tests

Japan received a poor mark in terms of the number of coronavirus detection tests but scored high in regard to its health care system and coronavirus death toll. This week, Japan lifted all curbs on domestic travel and the government will also allow up to 1,000 people to gather at indoor and outdoor events. 

South Korea, which was praised for quickly stopping an outbreak escalating through a test and trace regime, was also given a “fair” score in the report. Total infections in that country reached 12,306 this week, with 280 deaths.

I downloaded the report from the Economist’s website but it didn’t offer any explanation on why South Korea had not come higher in the rankings. Was it because it suffered a second wave of the disease after people went out to clubs and churches following the easing of restrictions, I wonder? 

Britain’s blunder

I wasn’t surprised, unfortunately, to see the low score given to the United Kingdom which is regarded as having been “very poor” in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. It ranks near the bottom of a global league table. 

New Zealand got the highest score while Belgium took the lowest.

All of this raises concerns about what will happen if there’s a second wave of the disease.