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Violent Peruvian raid hard to imagine in Japan

April 23, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ It never could have happened in Japan.

That was the reaction from many Japanese as they watched TV and saw camouflaged soldiers storm the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Peru to liberate 71 hostages held for four months by leftist rebels.

``It’s unbelievable by Japanese standards,″ cab driver Taneshige Takeno said this morning. ``The Japanese are so meek, including the government.″

Live footage of Tuesday’s assault and its aftermath dominated TV coverage throughout the day. Commuters eagerly bought up major newspapers’ special editions on the attack. But in contrast to the flag-waving and cheering in Lima, there was no public jubilation.

Many Japanese, accustomed to living in one of the world’s most violence-free societies, were stunned by the daring and sudden assault.

``It was amazing to stage a raid like that in the middle of the day,″ said Haruhiko Nakaji, a young businessman. ``The Japanese do things much differently.″

Indeed. Rather than risk lives, the government and large Japanese companies typically pay ransom to free businessmen taken hostage in other countries. Tokyo has no policy against negotiating with terrorists and has had little experience with hostage dramas at home.

From the moment the rebels stormed the Lima residence and demanded the release of its jailed comrades, Japan urged caution. And even when it was clear the raid succeeded, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto made one point clear: His government knew nothing about the raid beforehand.

``I expressed regret over the use of force, but I told him I understand why he did it,″ Hashimoto said of his morning phone conversation with Fujimori.

For the families of the 24 Japanese hostages held since December, there was sweet relief.

``I’m so happy with the release _ I’m so happy,″ said Chizuko Tomita, mother of freed hostage Masaru Tomita, president of Toyota Peru.

Employees at Japanese companies whose workers were among the hostages, including Marubeni and Mitsubishi, watched the raid on TV.

Minoru Makihara, president of Mitsubishi Corp., told a news conference he was surprised at the sudden use of force. The president of Mitsubishi’s local office in Peru, Akira Miyashita, was one of the hostages.

``But I feel relieved that Miyashita was confirmed safe,″ he said, thanking the Peruvian government.

Many people noted the sharp contrast between Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s bold action and their own government’s often lethargic response to crises. Most recently, the Japanese government was bitterly criticized for moving too slowly to save lives in the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

``Japanese politicians talk a lot, but they don’t make moves,″ said Yukari Matsuo, a 31-year-old housewife. ``Fujimori took initiative.″

Kenichi Ito, professor of international politics at Aoyama Gakuin University, told Kyodo News that the Japanese insistence on caution at all costs threatens its credibility abroad as a reliable partner.

``If there had been a true relationship of trust, there could have been some kind of contact in advance,″ he said. ``The Japanese voice is being heard only as a formality by the rest of the world.″

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