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Amid Jitters Over North Korea, Tokyo Conducts Public Missile Drill

It is a sign of the times: Tokyo has conducted its first public drill to prepare for the possibility of a missile attack from North Korea.

At the Tokyo Dome amusement park, rides came to a halt as the public address system blared an ominous warning: "An advisory about a missile launch was just issued. Everyone, please stay calm and seek shelter in the basement. Those who are already indoors, please stay there."

About 200 employees acted the part of calm, collected park visitors facing possible nuclear annihilation and "left picnic tables and rides and calmly marched to a basement," according to The Associated Press.

Although about 20 other Japanese cities have already undergone similar drills in recent weeks, it was a first for the capital, which would have only about 10 minutes to recognize and respond to an incoming North Korean missile, according to Hiroyuku Suenaga, a Japanese government official.

"[The] first alert would come about three minutes after launch, which gives us only around five minutes to find shelter," Suenaga told volunteers after the Tokyo exercise.

The Telegraph writes:

"Japan's [defenses] against a ballistic missile strike include Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan armed with interceptor missiles designed to destroy warheads in space. PAC-3 Patriot missile batteries represent a last line of [defense] against warheads that can plunge to their targets at several [kilometers] per second.

Japan has also decided to buy two land-based Aegis batteries and cruise missiles that could strike North Korean missile sites."

Protesters shout slogans outside the venue of an evacuation drill simulating a North Korea ballistic missile attack on Monday in Tokyo.
Shizuo Kambayashi / AP
Protesters shout slogans outside the venue of an evacuation drill simulating a North Korea ballistic missile attack on Monday in Tokyo.

But at least some people seemed skeptical that such a drill could go very far in preparing for the unimaginable, and some of them protested outside places where Monday's drill was conducted.

"I think these missile drills only fan missile scare among the Japanese people and their animosity toward North Korea," Mari Chihara, a 68-year-old caregiver for the handicapped, was quoted by the AP as saying as she handed out leaflets outside the amusement park. "I doubt if a missile is actually fired at Japan, and a drill like this is effective when there is a real missile attack."

Twice in recent months North Korea has tested its missiles in an arc over northern Japan, one on Aug. 29 and a second the following month.

Less than a week before Monday's drill, Japanese public broadcaster NHK issued a false warning of an incoming missile that rattled nerves in the country. It came just days after a similar false warning was issued in Hawaii.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.