Sympathies aside, many in Japan see hostages slain by ISIS as troublemakers

A woman holding a portrait of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto on a placard during a rally against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Feb 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
A woman holding a portrait of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto on a placard during a rally against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Feb 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

TOKYO - The two Japanese purportedly slain by the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are being widely viewed as troublemakers, as is prime minister Shinzo Abe, for exposing the nation to unwelcome attention from the Islamist group, reports said.

Many Japanese feel that if the hostages had not ignored warnings against travel to Syria, or if Mr Abe had not showcased Tokyo's support for the multinational coalition against ISIS, Japan would not have been exposed to this new sense of insecurity, The Associated Press has reported.

"They caused tremendous trouble to the Japanese government and to the Japanese people," said Taeko Sakamoto, a 64-year-old part-time worker, after first expressing sympathy over the deaths of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa. "In the old days, their parents would have had to commit hara-kiri (ritual suicide) to apologize," he told The Associated Press.

Mr Sakamoto also sees Mr Abe as part of the problem, for not being more mindful of the risks at a time when he had already been pushing to expand Japan's military role, which is limited to its own self-defense under the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution after its defeat in World War II. "I don't want Mr Abe to do anything else that may be seen as provocation, because that's what would put us at a greater risk," he said.

Japanese give importance to the values of "meiwaku" - causing trouble for others, as the society gives precedence to conformity over individuality.

The country until recently had not become directly involved in the violence surrounding ISIS. Days after Mr Abe announced during a Middle East trip last month that Japan would give US$200 million in non-military aid to support the fight against the group, the militants demanded a US$200 million ransom for the two hostages.

Both Goto, a journalist, and Yukawa were beheaded. In the video posted on militant websites that purportedly shows Goto's slaying, a man says, "Abe, because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin."

Mr Abe has been adamant about his commitment to fight terrorism as part of an international effort. On Thursday, Japan's lower house, unanimously endorsed a resolution condemning the ISIS's "beyond dastardly act of terrorism" and vowed to strengthen anti-terrorism efforts with the international community.

Japan's tensions with other countries have been largely limited to its neighbours China and South Korea. The Middle East is an unfamiliar, distant, dangerous place.

"That's where the two men dared to go and that's probably why many people see them causing trouble," said Koichi Nakano, international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

The public's response to the hostages was chilly from the beginning. Few seemed to sympathize with Yukawa, a 42-year-old gun aficionado and adventurer who was taken hostage in August. Media attention toward his case quickly faded and he was largely forgotten until Jan. 20, when militants made their ransom demand.

Goto's reputation as a veteran journalist whose reports focused on children and refugees in war-torn areas won him more sympathy.

Still, to address the "meiwaku" problem, both victims' families apologized repeatedly to the government and the people for "the trouble" their sons caused, even after they died.

But, a senior member of his ruling party cast Goto as a troublemaker, not a tragic hero.

Masahiko Komura, vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, said Wednesday that Goto showed "reckless courage, not true courage, no matter how high his aspirations might have been."

Criticizing the dead in public is extremely rare in Japan, and Mr Komura's comment reflects how individuals are expected to act in line with the national interest, Associated Press said.

Some critics accuse the government of promoting the "self-responsibility" idea as a way to shirk its own responsibility to protect Japanese citizens. "It's a dangerous trend and we must watch," said Taku Sakamoto, a journalist and Middle East expert.

While Mr Abe, his party's lawmakers and other nationalists say the terrorist threat justifies his push for a tougher military posture, others say it is exactly that sort of policy that is putting Japan at greater risk of attack.

"The hostage crisis is causing a tremendous impact on Japanese society, and has polarized views about which direction Japan should go in terms of national security," said Prof Nakano. "In a way, people saw what could happen under Abe's security policy."