Cherry Blossoms First Casualty of Kim Jong Un

by Michael Auslin

Japanese like to think their aesthetic sensibility is shaped in no small part by the cherry blossom: its vibrant beauty, celebrated in art and literature for centuries, is all too quickly blown away by the wind and rain. People who live short, tragic lives are often compared to cherry blossoms: falling away as suddenly as they bloom. This year the cherry blossoms have fallen more quickly than usual, at least metaphorically, as the government announced the cancellation of next month’s annual cherry-blossom viewing party in downtown Tokyo. Lest you think it a mere trifle, the party is a pretty big deal for Japan, and more than 10,000 invitations go out every year, including to the imperial family, politicians, and movie stars. Think of it as Japan’s equivalent to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Why the cancellation?  Fear and loathing over North Korea’s planned “satellite” launch for mid-April.  Of course, the government like everyone else knows the launch is really a disguised test for an intercontinental ballistic missile, but did it really need to cancel a major social event because of a test that may or may not happen (though it probably will) and which the North Koreans have indicated will be launched towards the southern seas, thousands of miles away from Tokyo and mainland Japan?

Japanese defense officials have already talked about shooting the missile down — if the announced launch trajectory is correct, that would then have to happen over Okinawa — which would actually be a far more interesting punctuation point to any fireworks that might have been planned for the viewing party. But preemptively cancelling the celebration seems not only like a bit of overkill, but more important, like knuckling under to Pyongyang’s intimidation. That’s half of what the tests are about: making the North seem irrational enough to make other countries wait in trepidation for what’s about to happen. Prime Minister Noda has made a bad decision to reward Kim Jong Un for his aggressiveness. At the very least, then, Japan should blow that missile out of the sky — to avenge the fleeting cherry blossoms.

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