The date: Tuesday 21st of September, 2010. Terror comes to Sango-cho.
I get off my commuter train at my local station and attempt to throw away my empty beer can — I can’t always resist a glug on the very long journey from Osaka. This is near enough a daily ritual and I am rather attached to it, but today I was thrown off my rhythm: the recycle and rubbish bins on the platform were sealed. Heavy, officially endorsed planks of words ensured nothing was getting in or getting out. All bins were off limits as a security precaution for the duration of the APEC conference — that’s what the words said. As a magazine editor I was profoundly embarrassed that I was unaware of an APEC conference under my nose, and indeed, it turned out to be just up the road in the city of Nara.
However, my embarrassment was somewhat assuaged when I discovered later that such was the importance of this conference, APEC’s own web site didn’t mention it. The site listed a whole palaver of conflabs happening concurrently up and down the nation, but it took some detective work to find out that Nara was hosting the tourism ministers, who were discussing, er, tourism.
Well, an APEC conference is an APEC conference so I suppose you have to expect a little security.
But I did wonder about locking down the bins at Sango station. We are located in the same prefecture as Nara, but otherwise Sango is a small, non-happening of a town, 17km away from Nara proper. People go there to sleep and wonder whether they could be doing something else with life. As a tactical move, bombing Sango would be like attacking central London by shouting ‘boo!’ in Ongar. Even if the security in Nara were too tight for the most cunning bombers, planting a bomb in Sango would be a gesture so futile as to be risible. And why lock down the bins only in Nara? What about Osaka? It’s just next door. A bomb in Osaka would be as much a blow as a bomb in Nara. It is bigger, more populated, more famous, and there are plenty of good places to have a drink and a feed after a hard day planting IEDs, yet the bins there were open to whatever devices of mass destruction you cared to drop in them.
Back to terror-proof Sango. I was looking at the security-bound rubbish bin with an empty can in my hand. I had no desire to either litter or carry the can home, but no problem. I crossed the platform and dropped my can in the unsealed, unsecured rubbish bin next to the vending machines, which, being managed by Coca Cola and not a rail company, was not a place a terrorist would consider hiding a bomb. So that was all right then.