Sakura is out in full bloom and all of Tokyo seemed to be enjoying a lovely day in the park, this Sunday. But I was on a mission. I took a Chuo-Sobu line train to Ichigaya to look at another quite unique sight:
The Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, deployed in downtown Tokyo to intercept the ballistic missile Pyongyang promised it would launch between April 12 and 16.
While making my way through the crowds who’d settled down near the riverbanks to enjoy the “hanami” or cherry blossom, there was not the slightest indication of anxiety or worry in the air. Rather, even around 11.30 in the morning, bottles of sake and cans of beer went around only a few hundred meters from the Defence Ministry, where I was headed.
I had never been to the Defence Ministry before and was somewhat amazed with its sheer size. It’s an enormous complex right in the heart of Tokyo, within easy walking distance from the controversial Yasukuni shrine. After having walked virtually all around the complex, I was about to give up. Apparently the missiles were kept out of public view.
After about half an hour or so I stumbled on to a gate that left some room for public view and there they were (pic found on twitter, not mine). When I got to my office (on a beautiful Sunday, indeed!), I managed to reconstruct that the batteries were put up between the cherry blossom trees right behind this gate (Google Maps image).
As one can see there are pretty tall buildings (up to 10 stories high) right behind the launch site. From discussions with an expert, I learnt these highrise buildings could severely limit the Patriot’s ballistic missile interception capability.
Effectiveness of the missile defence batteries seems to be of little priority for the Japanese government, however. A number of observers and members of parliament claim that the deployment in downtown Tokyo is primarily meant to court the conservative electorate.