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Japan Sends Stern Warning to North Korea


Today Japan stepped up the pressure on North Korea not to test a long range missile. The Japanese foreign minister said if North Korea goes ahead with the launch, all options are on the table, including sanctions on food and oil shipments.

North Korea has not confirmed the test launch plans, but there's been intense speculation based on photographs from spy satellites that North Korea is preparing to test fire a missile that could reach U.S. soil.

Against this worrisome backdrop, the U.S. and Japan are expanding cooperation on a ballistic missile shield. The Japanese have been concerned about North Korea's intentions since a 1998 missile test over Japanese territory. NPR's Louisa Lim says that launch provoked a profound change in Japan's mindset that's becoming more evident today with a prospect of a second test launch.

(Soundbite of woman speaking foreign language)

LOUISA LIM reporting:

Early evening in Tokyo. A saleswoman is vainly trying to entice office workers to buy the latest mobile phone. They're streaming past, as they hurry to the train station or into the bar for an after work drink.

(Soundbite of crowd)

LIM: Here in the world's most densely populated city, many of the tiny bars are standing room only. At one, three typical salary men, as they're called here, prop up a table and debate the threat of the North Korean missile test.

Mr. KOTIA HANUNA (Oil Company Worker): (Foreign spoken)

LIM: I'm not worried at all, says Kotia Hanuna. The North Koreans have nothing to gain from firing a missile. They're not stupid.

His colleague, Mr. Katsuyaki(ph) doesn't agree.

Mr. KATSUYAKI: (Foreign spoken)

LIM: I'm worried, he says nervously. After all, last time they shot the missile right over Japan.

(Unintelligible) Kamay(ph) chimes in.

Mr. KAMAY: (Foreign spoken)

LIM: If the North Koreans launch a missile, he says, we should shoot back. Or we should destroy North Korea completely.

This range of views represents the evolution and hardening of public opinion in Japan, a country with a pacifist constitution for 60 years. This change in thinking was kick-started by North Korea's first missile test eight years ago.

Hizahiko Okazaki(ph), a former Japanese ambassador, spells out how it changed the national psyche.

Mr. HIZAHIKO OKAZAKI (Former Japanese Ambassador): More nationalism and there's a very slow process of (unintelligible) gaining the strength, and it accelerated it.

LIM: Suddenly aware of its vulnerability, Japan strengthened it's defenses by launching a spy satellite, and North Korea's brinkmanship also drove Japan further into American arms, as it sought a protector. Asanao Watanabee(ph) from Mitsui(ph) Research Institute explains.

Mr. ASANAO WATANABEE (Mitsui Research Institute): Japan must step up with a more realistic cooperation on the security issue with its major ally, the United States. And also Japan send self-defense forces in Iraq for Iraq reconstruction.

LIM: Cooperation has reached new heights, with Japanese technology to be used in American missile systems. But some want more drastic change.

(Soundbite of movie)

LIM: In (foreign language title), a blockbuster film that aired last year, foreign, possibly North Korean, agents, armed with a chemical weapon, steal a Japanese destroyer and head towards Tokyo. The film's underlying question is whether a military that can't fight, like Japan's self-defense forces, is a real army. This reflects the right winger's sense of being neutered. And suddenly views that were once were unthinkable, like those of ultra-nationalist commentator Hideaki Kasay(ph), are being voiced more and more.

Mr. HIDEAKI KASAY (Commentator): I have called for a nuclear armament for our nation for many years, say, over the last two or three years. Many of our intellectuals are publicly calling for nuclear armaments for Japan. Japan is the only country which suffered nuclear attacks. Therefore we have every right to go nuclear.

LIM: That debate could enter the mainstream if North Korea goes ahead with another missile launch. Faced with Pyongyang's saber-rattling and a rising China, Japan's growing nationalism and its soul-searching about its post-war identity can only intensify.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.