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N. Korean missile launch angers, worries Akita residents

AKITA -- North Korea's March 6 launch of four ballistic missiles, three of which landed inside Japan's exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan, has sparked fury and anxiety among residents of Akita Prefecture and surrounding areas.

"We simply don't know when or where the missiles will land," says Kazuhiro Asai, head of the Kitaura branch of the Fisheries Cooperative Association of Akita. "Recently, both the frequency and the number of missiles launched has increased, and this has caused an increased sense of fear among association members."

A missile evacuation drill is set to take place in the city of Oga in Akita Prefecture on March 17. It will simulate missiles landing off the coast of Akita in the Sea of Japan. The head of one evacuation site, Kiyokazu Hatakeyama of Kitaura Community Hall expresses his general concern. "The city of Oga is renowned for the 'Namahage' ogre and other attractions. However, with the threat of missiles, I am concerned that the number of tourists coming here will decline in the future."

Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake refrained from immediately commenting on the missile launch, saying the prefecture was still in the process of collecting detailed information. However, he blasted North Korea's action as "outrageous."

Anxiety is also prevalent in regions other than Akita. In September 2016, North Korean missiles landed off the coast of Okushiri Island in Hokkaido, unsettling the community. The proprietor of a guest house on the island, 84-year-old Sue Mizuno says, "My son is a fisherman, and I can't stop worrying about him."

Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama told reporters, "The situation is extremely regrettable. North Korea has a responsibility to tackle the issue of the abduction of Japanese people, but they seemed to have turned their back on this matter."

In a statement on the missile launch, the Ministry of Defense said, "We expected North Korea to carry out an act of provocation around this time of year. By launching four missiles at the same time, we believe that North Korea is trying to show the stability of its missile launching technology."

A senior official at the Self-Defense Forces commented, "North Korea carried out these launches without any fear of a backlash from the international community. As U.S.-South Korean military exercises continue, we expect that North Korea will continue to launch missiles."

In response to the latest launch, the Japan Coast Guard issued navigation warnings to ships that travel in Japanese coastal waters and dispatched patrol boats to the areas where the missiles are thought to have landed. The organization will search for debris, and assess any damage that may have occurred.

In addition, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has issued a NOTAM, or "Notice to Airmen," safety warning to aircraft flying close to Japan.

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