Skip to main content

Japan's capital living in shadow of North Korea's belligerence

By Diana Magnay, CNN
April 10, 2013 -- Updated 0922 GMT (1722 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Patriot anti-missile batteries appeared overnight this week in Japanese capital
  • They are deployed in case North Korea carries out its threat to test-fire a missile
  • Would take between five and 10 minutes for missile to reach skies over Tokyo
  • Japan has deployed these measures before during previous launches

Are you in Japan and worried about a North Korea missile launch? Send us your thoughts

Tokyo (CNN) -- Two PAC 3 Patriot anti-missile batteries currently occupy what is normally a baseball pitch in the leafy grounds of Japan's Ministry of Defense. They point northwest -- in the general direction of North Korea.

They were moved here to the heart of the Japanese capital in the early hours of Tuesday morning, alongside further batteries in two Tokyo suburbs.

And if the intelligence is right, and North Korea has moved one, maybe two mid-range missiles to its eastern coast, any test firing it might choose to conduct could conceivably have its trajectory over Japan.

READ: World awaits North Korea's next move

Pyongyang is just 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) from Tokyo. It would take between five and 10 minutes for a missile to reach the skies over Tokyo. The concern here is not that North Korea has Japan or indeed any particular target in its sights, whatever its grandiose claims, it is that something might go wrong with a missile test.

"The North Koreans are not trying to attack Japan but to scare the Americans," says Narushige Michishita, director of security studies at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo. ''The problem is the missile might malfunction and part of the debris might land on Japanese territory."

READ: N. Korean missiles: Who's in range?

North Korea missile threat
Official: Missile fire may be 'imminent'
Seoul prepared but thinks attack unlikely
Pentagon: "We have good intelligence"

Residents whose homes overlook the Ministry of Defense are getting used to these military apparitions outside their bedroom windows. The Patriots have been deployed here three times since 2009, each time North Korea has announced it will launch what it claims is a satellite, but what most other countries call a missile.

"The situation is acute," Japan's defense minister told the unit commander on a visit to the site laid on for journalists. "Be ready to take prompt action whenever the order is made."

It is arguable that this deployment in the heart of the capital is partly for show -- to guarantee photographers an easy front page and thus reassure nervous Tokyoites that their safety is secured.

READ: Cheney: 'We're in deep doo doo'

But the missile defense shield the Japanese have developed with the U.S. to safeguard this region is one of the world's most sophisticated. These latest deployments are about fine-tuning. If the previous three "satellite" launches are anything to go by, the Japanese government will have positioned Aegis Destroyers equipped with SM-3 missile interception systems in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.

It has been widely reported that has happened -- though the government won't confirm it, unwilling to "show its cards," a spokesman said, to the North Koreans.

These deployments should suffice, says Michishita. "Generally a sea-based system is more useful because it has a wider area it can defend. PAC 3 is more contained but together they are effective.''

But Kim Jong Un's belligerence has some Tokyo residents clearly worried.

Junro Kato came out in search of TV crews like us armed with a map showing how far North Korea's missiles can reach. "North Korea can hit Japan in five minutes," he said.

"If there are miscalculations between U.S. and North Korea, military conflict will happen."

For others though, the overriding emotion is astonishment -- astonishment at their puffed up neighbor's endless posturing.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
Sources tell Evan Perez that U.S. investigators have determined North Korea was in fact behind the Sony hacking.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Obama says people should "go to the movies" without fear, despite hackers' threats against venues that show "The Interview".
December 2, 2014 -- Updated 0035 GMT (0835 HKT)
CNN's Brian Todd reports on the hacking of Sony Pictures and whether North Korea could be behind it.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2342 GMT (0742 HKT)
As the U.S. gets ready to blame the Sony hack on North Korea, a troublesome question is emerging: Just what is North Korea capable of?
December 9, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
A retired Silicon Valley executive and Korean War veteran was hauled off his plane at Pyongyang in 2013. Here's what happened next.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
A recent defector from North Korea tells of the harrowing escape into China via Chinese 'snakehead' gangs.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
CNN's Amara Walker speaks to a former North Korean prison guard about the abuses he witnessed and was forced to enact on prisoners.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0559 GMT (1359 HKT)
The chief of the Commission of Inquiry into North Korea's human rights says the world can no longer plead ignorance to the regime's offenses.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Kim Jong Il's former bodyguard tells of the beatings and starvation he endured while imprisoned in the country's most notorious prison camp.
November 10, 2014 -- Updated 1834 GMT (0234 HKT)
Christian Whiton argues "putting the United States at the same table as lawless thugs isn't just morally repugnant -- it's ineffective".
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 0543 GMT (1343 HKT)
Despite tense relations, China benefits from Kim Jong Un's rule in North Korea. David McKenzie explains.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0851 GMT (1651 HKT)
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system" and citizens have "priceless political integrity", the country declared.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
Pro-wrestling, country clubs and theme parks are just some of the attractions North Korea wants you to see on a tightly controlled tour of the country.
ADVERTISEMENT