North Korea launched their missile last Friday at 7:39 AM, but a period of time passed before the Tokyo government acknowledged or provided a response to the public. A period of almost 50 minutes. Focusing on the long delay before any announcement was made, critics are calling into question the ability of the government to handle a crisis situation. When the government finally did say something, it was in the form of Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka’s press briefing that a type of “flying object” had come out of North Korea and then crashed into the ocean, with no effect on Japan.
This is in direct contrast to announcements from the South Korean government, as well as international (including Japanese) press and media, which were almost immediate. North Korea made public their plans to launch a science satellite in mid-March; most governments and intelligences knew it to actually be a long-range weapons test, and that the launch would occur sometime in the second week of April. Defense Minister Tanaka, who took office this January and has been seen as making a series of blunders since, authorized the use of defense weapons in the case it became necessary to shoot down the missile.
In March, to ease public concern over the actions of North Korea, the government stated that it would be using J-Alert, the county’s public warning system, to keep everyone informed. But the Japanese people had already known of the rocket’s launch, and ocean-bound fate, from TV reports before the government said anything. An editorial in the Mainichi newspaper asked what was the point of the J-Alert system. Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto even posted to Twitter, questioning the government’s ability to gather intelligence.
Tanaka has tried to emphasize that the government’s concern wasn’t necessarily the launch of the missile, but if it was going to be a threat to Japanese territory. The long period of time before response was needed to assure confirmation. A part of that explanation certainly feels to ring true after what happened in 2009, the last time Pyongyang performed a long-range weapons test. At the time, the government had mistakenly said the launch had taken place, a day before it really did fly over northern Japan.