Irish man in Japan: ‘I am formulating evacuation plans’

Brendan Walsh (23) awoke to a warning about North Korea’s missile launch

Brendan Walsh: ‘The main concern here is not this missile, but rather the next one and the one after that.’

Brendan Walsh: ‘The main concern here is not this missile, but rather the next one and the one after that.’

 

Residents in Japan awoke to sirens and text alerts this morning, warning of a ballistic missile fired by North Korea over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. They were later notified that the missile had broken up and landed in the sea. This is one of dozens of ballistic missile tests conducted under Kim Jong-un, but tests over Japan are rare.

Brendan Walsh, a 23-year-old teacher from Knocklyon in Dublin who has been living in Sapporo in Hokkaido since July 2016, shares his experience of the day’s events.

I was awoken in my apartment in Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan this morning at 6.02am by an emergency alert from the national emergency warning system. This system can contact all phones in Japan in case of an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcano, or as was the case today, a ballistic missile launch.

I didn’t pay much heed to the warning. I’ve received these messages previously, a landslide warning last August, which came to nothing. North Korea often tests rockets that land in the Sea of Japan. I didn’t even read the full alert, which was in Japanese . I assumed a missile had just got too close for comfort, and this warning was precautionary.

I then heard a knock on my door from a neighbour, telling me to go to the subway station with her to take cover. If I had read the full alert, I would have seen that it said North Korea had fired a missile, and that we should get into a sturdy building or go underground and take cover.

We packed essentials like fruit, water, internet modems, phone chargers, money, and a few photos of loved ones. My girlfriend, who is in hospital at the moment, was my biggest worry. I was concerned that if she was too weak, she wouldn’t be evacuated, and may be left behind. I kept thinking, I have to get to her, and get her out. If I don’t, I thought, she’ll be fried alive. That thought stayed with me throughout the day and left me shaken.

After I packed supplies, I went to fetch the neighbours. But soon after we gathered, we received another alert giving the all clear. I hadn’t made it very far. My reaction time overall left a lot to be desired.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan that crashed in the Pacific Ocean, 1,180km east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo. No damage has been reported. The Japanese government issued a warning to its citizens after the launch. Photograph: EPA
North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan that crashed in the Pacific Ocean, 1,180km east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo. No damage has been reported. The Japanese government issued a warning to its citizens after the launch. Photograph: EPA

After this incident, the day went by as normal. No one spoke of it at the school where I teach, barring other expats. I think it’s a Japanese cultural thing, to be demure. Japanese water cooler chatter is quite different to what you would be used to in Ireland.

I have been in contact with my family and friends in Ireland all day. No one seems too worried. I sent a message to my da, which woke him up, telling him that North Korea hadn’t got us just yet. He had no idea what I was talking about, as the missile had been launched just before bedtime in Ireland and he hadn’t heard about it.

The Irish community is very small here, but the expat community has been cooperating today. Along with a few expat friends, I have begun to formulate emergency and evacuation plans. I intend to practice getting out of the house and sheltered in 20 minutes, no more.

The main concern here is not this missile, but rather the next one and the one after that. What more can the international community do other than introduce tougher sanctions? Pressuring China to halt trade with North Korea and to impose tough sanctions is the best strategy, in my opinion, though this is easier said than done of course. Japan needs to sort out a missile defence system like that of South Korea, or the Iron Dome in Israel.

I’m not too worried. But I am vigilant.

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