Nuclear Nightmares over Tokyo

an expat’s view of the apocalypse to come

einsteinsminsters

Back in September, I started a weekly series of blogs about a Tokyo expat’s view of all the “sabre-rattling,” the “war of words” currently being fought between Trump and Kim Jong-un. I’ve published four weekly blogs so far, “Dotard and Little Rocket Man in Tokyo: an expat view” and gathered them together in a publication: Nuclear Nightmares over Tokyo: an expat’s view of the apocalypse to come,’ at https://medium.com/nuclear-nightmares-over-tokyo. Unfortunately, with the North Koreans continuing to pursue missile and nuclear warhead technology and the Americans ramping up the rhetoric, it looks like there will be more to blog… stay tuned!

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Dotard and Little Rocket Man in Tokyo Part I

an expat’s front row seat of the apocalypse

(Updated 9/29/17) Is that a truck passing in the night, or an H-bomb passing overhead…

einsteinsminsters

Despite all the recent nuclear bomb tests and missile launches in North Korea, including a few flyovers of my adopted home Japan, our rural suburb in west Tokyo seemed safely on the sidelines of the current nuclear missile crisis in North Korea. After all, I figured, with nearly 80,000 South Korean and US troops to face on the other side of the DMZ, Kim Jong-un had enough on his plate without worrying about Japan, a country so shell-shocked by the horrors of war that eighty years later its constitution still prohibits a standing army.*

Why bother?

Besides, to be mercenary about it, and with apologies in advance to the Chammoros, if anyone off the Korean peninsula might be in Pyongyang’s bombsights, wouldn’t it be Guam? After all, “America’s aircraft carrier in the Pacific” is home base to the B1 Lancer bombers which recently flew above the DMZ — though still in international airspace — and prompted the threat that North Korea would shoot down American bombers.

In the algorithm of risk vs. reward which every expat calculates in times of crisis, I simply could not see the danger of a nuclear — or biological or chemical — attack near Tokyo outweighing the rewards of the life that R., my wife, and I have been lucky enough to build for ourselves in Tokyo.

So it naturally came as a bit of a surprise in mid September, when a North Korean state agency threatened to use nuclear weapons to “sink” Japan. I mean, why would Kim Jong-Un aim one of his maybe 60 nuclear weapons at us?

Then I learned a couple of facts which has changed the metric.

First, there are 50,000 American forces members in Japan, well within strike range of Pyongyang and thus likely of interest to the DPRK military leadership. And, of the 23 American military facilities in Japan, seven are in or near Tokyo, including Yokota Air Base and the Yokosuka Naval Base. Yokota, the home for the headquarters of United States Forces Japan, is in Fussa, western Tokyo — R. and I pass on our way to the mountains. Yokosuka, at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, is home port to entire Seventh Fleet, including the supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan, which returns to the Korean peninsula in October.

In other words, there are significant military targets within Tokyo. For a lesson in morbid urban geography, the Nukemap website can approximate casualties and fatalities for variables such as yield size, airburst or surface detonation, and wind direction. According to the site, and depending on wind direction, our neighbourhood in west Tokyo could well be in the fallout zone of a 250-kiloton hydrogen bomb, the same size as the bomb tested in mid-September — up to 17 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Second, there is a historic animosity between Japan and North Korea; indeed, the very founding of North Korea and the current dynasty is rooted in resistance to the Japanese occupation of the peninsula in the first third of the 20th century. As I learned in a recent Newsweek feature by Samuel Earle, the origin myth of North Korea’s current dynasty is inextricably linked to Kim Il-Sung’s resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea. So if Kim Jong-un were to “sink” Japan as he has recently threatened to do, he would simply be fulfilling the war against Japan fought by his grandfather almost 100 years ago.

So, for the moment, we here in Japan perhaps more than in most other countries must rely on the better angels of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un’s natures to not blow us up.

But are they paying attention? Maybe I should tweet this…

Follow this story at Dotard and Little Rocket Man in Tokyo Part I

 

Nukemap website

Samuel Earle, North Korea vs. Japan: A Historic and Hateful Rivalry That Now Threatens the World from Newsweek, reprinted on Yahoo News

Einstein’s Monsters: an expat view of the North Korea Missile Crisis from Tokyo

einsteinsminsters

Until recently, I considered being in Tokyo a sideline seat to the North Korea nuclear crisis. After all, I rationalized, why would Kim Jong-un waste precious nuclear bombs on a symbolic target like Tokyo? Between the American and the South Korean militaries, weren’t there enough concerns on the Korean peninsula without having to look for targets further afield? And if the North Korean military command did turn their attention offshore, wouldn’t Guam be the most likely target (no offense to the Guamanians)?

Then, however, I learned a few things.

First, there are 50,000 American forces members in Japan, well within strike range of Pyongyang and thus of interest to the DPRK military leadership.

Second, America has some significant military hardware in the region. The USS Ronald Reagan, the aircraft “supercarrier” and flagship of the US Navy recently dispatched to the waters off North Korea, is permanently based in Yokuska at the mouth of Tokyo Bay.

Third, there is an historic animosity between Japan and North Korea; indeed, the very founding of North Korea and the current dynasty is rooted in resistance to the Japanese occupation of the peninsula in the first third of the 20th century. As I learned in a recent Newsweek Feature by Samuel Earle, the origin myth of North Korea’s current dynasty is inextricably linked to Kim Il-Sung’s resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea. So if Kim Jong-un were to “sink” Japan as he has recently threatened to do, he would simply be fulfilling the war against Japan fought by his grandfather almost 100 years ago.

So, IS North Korea likely to directly attack Japan? Despite the recent escalation of words, with “Rocket Man” and “dotard” being flung across the Pacific, it still seems unlikely. A graver and more imminent concern, perhaps is North Korea’s threat to carry out an atmospheric explosion of a hydrogen bomb, the fallout from which could affect the entire region.

Stay tuned…

I will continue to post updates from ‘Einstein’s Monsters’ on Big Sushi, Little Fishes as long as there is interest. You can also read the full text of Einstein’s Monsters at https://medium.com/@aaronpaulson/einsteins-monsters-in-tokyo-an-expat-view-3c6fdaa44f1e

Kinokuniya’s Flagship Bookstore in Tokyo Downsizes

Kinokuniya Bookstore, Tokyo

It couldn’t last; Heck, I’m surprised it stuck it out as long as it did. A six-story bookstore simply wasn’t meant for this world of online ordering and ebook readers. As of December 1st, the flagship store of the Kinokuniya bookstore chain has given up four of its six floors to a designer furniture shop. For now, the foreign books section remains on the sixth floor, and still stocks books in English and French and other languages, though anyone who’s visited recently knows, other merchandise such as large-scale wall calendars and t-shirts are encroaching on the floor space once reserved for books and magazines.

On a personal note, the Kinokuniya bookstore served as a critical landmark  when I first arrived in-country almost two decades ago and spun out a jet-lagged fugue in Shinjuku’s elevated walkways and neon canyonlands. I’ve made regular visits ever since, and always allowed myself the luxury of impulse purchases to help support one of my favourite places to kill time. I have to admit I’ve visited less in the last few years, but I’m going to miss riding the escalator from the sixth floor to the cafe where I could check out my latest purchases.

Sigh. End of an era.

Niigata 雪国 Yukiguni “Snow Country”

Sea of Japan Xoast; Niigata, Japan

Every year, winter storms out of Siberia and mainland Asia, picks up steam as it howls across the Sea of Japan, and crashes onto main-island Honshu, making Japan – literally – the snowiest country on earth. Fortunately for us, Tokyo is in the lee of the “roof of Japan,” mountain ranges which trap the worst of the cold and snow to the windward side. Areas such as Niigata prefecture, on the coastal plain between the Sea of Japan and mountains, are transformed into the 雪国 yukiguni “snow country” made famous in Kawabata’s sparse, bleak-as-winter-snow love story. Just as a point of reference, Niigata City averages 217 cm a year (Tokyo, on the other hand, is a paltry 11cm; my hometown of Toronto comes in at 115cm; my first host city in Japan, Nayoro in central Hokkaido, records a massive 890 cm). Traditionally, houses in snow country have a special door built on the second storey for winter. When I lived on Hokkaido, I had to shovel off the roof to avoid having our cabin crushed under the weight of snow; every winter a few homeowners disappear while shoveling roofs, only to re-appear in spring as the snowdrifts melt away.

“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country.” – Kawabata, Snow Country (Seidensticker trans.)

Not surprisingly, until recently this part of Japan was quite isolated. In the 60s and 70s, a major highway and a shinkansen bullet train rail line connected Niigata City, and outlying mountain towns, to Tokyo and the rest of Japan. Niigata is also an important port: until the ship was linked to abductions and drugs and weapons smuggling in the early 2000s, a ferry connected Niigata with North Korea. Another ferry plies the Sea of Japan between Niigata and the once-closed Soviet-era city of Vladivostok – home to the Russian Pacific fleet, if you wanna know. 

Today, R. and I make the trip at least once a year to visit her family in the suburbs, near enough the sea to avoid the worst of the snowfall in the mountainous interior.

“I might as well be going to the ends of the earth” – Matsuo Basho, writing about the neighbouring prefecture of Tohoku

See more pictures on my Niigata gallery at 500px