Photo/IllutrationA signboard at JR Sapporo Station shows train delays on Aug. 29 because of North Korea's missile launch. (Susumu Imaizumi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Like many others in northern Japan, a 23-year-old woman had no idea what to do after she was awakened by a warning on her mobile phone about a North Korean missile launch.

“It said to flee to a sturdy building, but I have no idea if my home is sturdy enough or if I should run to an evacuation center,” said the woman, who normally commutes from her home in Aomori city to Morioka, Iwate Prefecture.

North Korea’s launch of the ballistic missile that flew over Hokkaido early on Aug. 29 triggered the J-Alert warning system over the widest area ever.

Reactions to the warning were mixed. Train services were suspended and some schools closed for safety concerns. Many residents were confused on how to respond to the threat, which ended minutes later.

Others simply ignored the warning.

According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, the J-Alert warning on Aug. 29 was issued in 12 prefectures, including Hokkaido and the six prefectures of northeastern Japan. It was the third such warning about a North Korean missile since the system began operating in 2007.

About 15 fishing boats based in Erimo, Hokkaido, were at sea when the missile was launched. The missile apparently flew over Cape Erimo before landing in the Pacific Ocean about 1,180 kilometers east of the cape.

All boats were alerted about the missile launch through mobile phones on board. Only about five returned to port but mainly because of rough seas, not the North Korean missile.

The other boats continued fishing.

“At first, we received information that the missile was launched toward the Tohoku region so we had no idea where it would land,” an Erimo fisheries cooperative official said. “If the announcement is made after the missile falls back to Earth, we would not know where to evacuate to.”

The first warning was issued about four minutes after the missile was launched. Information that the missile had flown over Japan was issued about 12 minutes after the launch.

After East Japan Railway Co. received the first warning, it immediately stopped operations of five Shinkansen bullet train lines. Services resumed on all lines around 6:30 a.m. Operations on some local lines were also suspended.

Hokkaido Railway Co. halted operations for about 20 minutes on all its Shinkansen and local lines.

In April, Tokyo Metro Co. temporarily stopped its subway services based on media reports about a North Korean missile launch. That missile failed, and Tokyo Metro was ridiculed and criticized for overreacting.

Tokyo Metro revised its procedural standards and decided to suspend services only when it receives a J-Alert warning.

The Tokyo area did not receive such a warning on Aug. 29, so operations ran normally on the Tokyo Metro lines.

Four public schools in Hokkaido and three prefectures in northern Japan decided to call off classes on Aug. 29, according to the education ministry.

An official with Rokkasho High School in Aomori Prefecture said classes were canceled based on a worst-case scenario of the missile landing near the school.

Rokkasho is the site of a Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. facility and is also close to the U.S. Air Force’s Misawa Air Base.

According to an official with the Hokkaido board of education, 14 schools delayed the start of classes because of the missile launch.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority announced that none of the nuclear power plants in Japan was affected by the missile launch.