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    Topic 1 for discussion among talking heads this weekend:

    How can Japan usefully tighten counter-terrorism measures after last week’s bombings in London? The Asahi gives a list in its Japanese report:

    At the Ministry of Justice, the Public Security Intelligence Agency has established an Emergency Intelligence Office to tighten up instructions to Immigration Control about screening of foreigners in Japan [to find] illegal entrants, especially those from England.

    The Japan Defense Agency is conducting searches for suspicious items and inspections at SDF bases, including Samawa [in Iraq]. Weapons, ammunition, other hazardous materials, vehicles, documents of identification, and uniforms will be tightly controlled in close cooperation with [local] police.

    The Police Agency has increased the level of alert at Japanese diplomatic posts abroad. Instructions have been issued to prefectural and metropolitan police agencies to reassess the state of defense measures.

    The Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure has warned rail, airline, bus, and airport management corporations [of the need for increased safety measures]. In particular, instructions to look into information gathering about rail and air [system vulnerability] have been issued to the MLTI’s counter-terrorism team.

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has increased the level of alert at nuclear power plants, in cooperation with the Maritime Security Agency and the Police Agency. Response measures have been strengthened at major industrial complexes and the Aichi Expo.

    The Ministry of Internal Affairs has called on NHK to work toward [better] provision of information to Japanese citizens abroad through international broadcasting.

    The Financial Services Agency is increasing cooperation between its own Overseas Finance Division and agents of international finance.

    Police presence has been increased at possible terrorist targets, and the last few nights of news broadcasts have featured clusters of solemn station police prodding trash receptacles and looking in toilet stalls.

    What do the people think of all this? The Yomiuri says that there’s no stampede to cancel reservations on Tokyo-London flights, though of course the travel agencies have received some calls asking about safety. The Japanese may have their misgivings about Prime Minister Koizumi’s robust support of President Bush’s approach to the WOT, but if there’s anything they’re good at, it’s making fatalistic adjustments to reality when necessary.

    Anyway, everyone in Tokyo is, beneath the rhythms of daily life, already braced for a major earthquake that could kill 5000 to 10000 people. Every time you enter a thirty-year-old building, or descend a narrow staircase to get to a basement bar, or get in an elevator and press the button for the 40th floor, or drive over one of the many stacks of elevated highways, it’s a shadowy thought that flits across your mind. The sarin gas attacks ten years ago showed that there were actually native Japanese nutcases capable of attacking the Tokyo subway system. And a few months ago, we spent a week watching bodies being dug out from the twisted wreckage of a derailed commuter train in western Japan; the final number of deaths was over 100.

    It’s impossible to assess how likely an Islamist terrorist attack is here. Japan’s been on al-Qaeda’s hit list for the past few years, but all the authorities have really discovered in the way of activity here was an Algerian-French money launderer. In any case, extra police and more-stringent inspections are a good idea, but they’re likely to frustrate rather than actually foil attacks in the long run.

    I think that most of us figure that, even in the event of multiple coordinated strikes on, say, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Tokyo, and Ueno stations (with maybe Kasumigaseki thrown in to stick it to the civil service) at 8:30 a.m. on a work day, the probability that any one of us is going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is pretty low. Like England, Japan has first-rate fire and rescue networks and citizens who are used to orderly, democratic civic life. We’ll just have to deal with whatever comes.

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