The hostage crisis involving two Japanese nationals abducted by the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has reminded Japanese once again of the threat that terrorism poses and is likely to prod the nation to change how it deals with terrorism.
This is the first instalment of a three-part series that examines Japan's preparedness against international terrorism.
"We will absolutely never forgive the brutal terrorists," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in response to the purported killings of the Japanese, expressing with stern words his determination to fight ISIL. "We will make them atone for their crimes."
On its website Sunday, The New York Times reported Abe's words under the headline - "Departing From Japan's Pacifism, Shinzo Abe Vows Revenge for Killings" - saying such vows of retribution "have been unheard of in confrontation-averse Japan - until now." The leading US daily has taken Abe's call for revenge as a possible "watershed" for Japan to depart from its heretofore passiveness to move to proactive engagement in the international efforts to fight terrorism.
In Japan, Abe was quoted as saying to his close aides in elaborating on his public remarks: "We will strive to stabilize the people's livelihood in the Middle East through our humanitarian and other support, by which we will isolate and annihilate ISIL. Together with the international community, we will drag the terrorists before the International Criminal Court."
Abe spelled out the Japanese government's stance on terrorism at a liaison meeting of the government and the ruling parties held Monday. "We will establish a robust regime to ensure the safety [of Japanese] and forge strong ties of cooperation with the international community," Abe said. "This is the only way to stand up against terrorism."
In a video it released on Sunday morning, ISIL declared that it would continue to make Japanese a target of terrorism, saying, "So let the nightmare for Japan begin."
It is, therefore, possible that other terrorist groups may target Japanese as they realise how large the propaganda benefit will be by doing so, after having seen a media frenzy in the United States and European nations over the Japanese hostage crisis.
Freedom of overseas travel
Many say it is essential for Japanese to be aware that a new era has arrived, in which Japanese are targets of international terrorism. In 2013, about 1.26 million Japanese were living overseas, and a total of about 17.47 million went overseas for leisure or business trips.
The government plans to strengthen its efforts to protect Japanese overseas, and experts said it is also imperative for all Japanese to become more aware of the danger of terrorism.
Dealing with Japanese nationals traveling to dangerous zones poses difficult problems for the government, however.
The Foreign Ministry has issued an advisory to evacuate Syria, a part of which is controlled by ISIL, and urged certain individuals not to travel there. But one Foreign Ministry official lamented that the ministry is not able to stop individuals from visiting dangerous places "if they say they would go there under their own responsibility" as the Constitution guarantees the freedom of foreign travel.
Some from the ruling coalition have called for strengthening measures to discourage people from traveling to danger zones, but many are sceptical that any effective steps can be instituted.
Given this, individuals are advised to have strict awareness that the freedom of visiting dangerous places carries a huge responsibility to avoid the risk of becoming a hostage.
During the hostage crisis, the Japanese government tried to determine the whole picture of the crisis and ISIL's intentions, based on various top-secret intelligence on terrorist groups, which was provided by the United States and Middle Eastern nations.
"We acutely realised the importance of international cooperation over intelligence," a high-ranking government official said.
The law to protect specially designated state secrets that went into force in December has made it easier for Japan to receive classified information from other countries.
It has been over one year since the National Security Council was established in Japan.
These developments, however, represent only the first steps on the road to building a world-class system for intelligence gathering and analysis.