Japanese Public Opinion and Responses
to 9/11 and the Afghan Invasion
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Japanese public’s distinctive world outlook was challenged as perhaps never before. The public reacted with shock and alarm to the attacks and rallied to support their U.S. ally. The Japanese government’s response, especially its decision to dispatch the MSDF to the Indian Ocean to provide fuel and water to the United States and other allied navies in the context of supporting ongoing combat operations against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, raised questions about whether Japan was shedding its reluctance to send the SDF overseas for combat-related operations. Was Japan crossing its Rubicon?1
This chapter is thus a case study of the Japanese public’s influence on the government’s response to 9/11. Did 9/11 bring about fundamental change in Japanese public attitudes and hence in policy? Like Chapters 5 and 6, this chapter shows how public skepticism about projecting strategically offensive military power overseas influenced and channeled the government’s responses to the 9/11 attacks and American expectations for significant support from Japan.
Japanese public opinion reacted with shock to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and to the loss of more than twenty of its nationals in the Twin Towers. In a Yomiuri Shinbun poll conducted September 24–25, 2001, 82.5 percent of Japanese expressed great concern about the 9/11 attacks, and 15.5 percent expressed some concern, for an astoundingly high total of 98 percent. A mere 1.9 percent expressed little concern; and 0.1 percent expressed no concern at all. Incredibly, the number expressing no opinion or not answering registered at 0 percent. These extreme results reflect the deep initial impression that 9/11 graphic TV images and other media reports made on the Japanese public.2
Polling results also reflected short-term anxiety: Of the respondents, 38.4 percent expressed great concern that similar terrorist attacks could occur in Japan, while 47.6 percent expressed some concern that this could happen: 86