As a US aircraft carrier group steams towards the Korean Peninsula and the regime in Pyongyang steps up its threats of retribution, the Japanese public is taking no chances.
Sales of bomb shelters and air purifiers designed to keep radioactivity and toxic chemicals at bay have soared in recent days, with suppliers saying they are unable to keep up with demand.
“A year ago, we were getting maybe five calls a day about air purifiers, but it is 30 a day now”, said Shota Hayashi, a spokesman for Kobe-based Oribe Seiki Seisakusho.
“Virtually all of the calls are from people who want to install the filters at their homes rather than businesses”, he said. “Some people are very frightened by what is going on at the moment”.
There has also been a sharp uptick in inquiries about the company’s nuclear shelters, which it typically constructs beneath existing homes, Hayashi said. And customers are not being put off by the Y25 million (£176,000) price tag, although many are expressing concern at the long waiting list.
Concern over the possibility of a conflict breaking out in Korea has been rising steadily in recent months, but spiked earlier this month after Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, told a parliamentary hearing that North Korea may have developed the technology to equip its ballistic missiles with warheads containing sarin nerve gas.
Graphic: The military build-up
The government has also recently updated information on the Cabinet Secretariat’s Civil Protection website about measures that citizens should take in the event of a missile attack.
People should take cover inside sturdy buildings or underground shopping facilities, while anyone caught in the open should lie flat on the ground and behind shelter, if possible. People indoors are also being told to stay away from windows.
The government has also told officials at Japanese schools in South Korea to monitor developments and be ready to evacuate if the situation requires it.
North Korea’s nuclear arsenal
On Monday, an international school in Yokohama issued an alert to its staff, cautioning, “As a result of heightened tensions between North Korea and the United States, there has been a precautionary warning by the government of Japan that North Korea may launch a missile and it may be directed at Japan.
“In this case, the government will sound an alarm and there will be an emergency announcement made over the PA system by the school head/designee for teachers to take the students that you are supervising to the auditorium”, it said. “It will be a tight squeeze, but everyone needs to shelter there until the all clear is given”.
Analysis of recent missile launches by North Korea suggest that at least some of the regime’s arsenal has sufficient range and accuracy to hit targets in Japan, with US military facilities here likely aiming points.
The US military has port facilities in Nagasaki Prefecture, in the far south-west of Japan, as well as in Yokosuka and Yokohama, outside Tokyo. It also has a number of airfields across the nation.