There have been two missile launches in less than two weeks.

Jess McHugh
September 15, 2017

Amid rising tensions between the United States and North Korea, Pyongyang launched a missile that flew over Japan on Friday.

While many people in Japan and South Korea have grown somewhat used to the frequent military displays from North Korea, U.S. travelers who had booked trips to Tokyo or the Japanese islands are understandably spooked.

Travel + Leisure spoke with Abby Hocking — a New York City-based photo editor with plans to travel to Tokyo and Kyoto with her husband in November — about her concerns. Hocking recently inquired with her booking agencies to see if their trip costs could be refunded after receiving frantic phone calls from anxious family members.

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"That planted the seeds of doubt," she said.

While initially dismissing their fears as unfounded, Hocking and her husband grew more concerned after the second missile launch in less than two weeks.

"Maybe this isn't the best time to go," she said. "But then, when is the best time to go?"

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Security experts and government officials, however, have said Japan continues to be safe for tourists, and the missile tests should not be a deterrent for travel.

“The way I think about the North Korea threat is analogous to earthquake risk," Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on United States-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), told Travel + Leisure

"If the possibility of an earthquake is not going to deter people from going to Japan, I don’t see at this time why tensions with North Korea should be a deterrent,” he said.

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The missile over Japan flew farther than any other North Korea test, The Telegraph reported, though its payload and accuracy are not yet known. Japan has missile defense, but they can only fire if attacked, according to their constitution.

The fact that Japan did not shoot down the missile can be construed as a positive sign, according to Snyder, as it indicates the missile did not constitute an attack.

North Korea has repeatedly threatened to attack Guam, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific, and is reportedly developing an intercontinental missile.

The United Nations imposed its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea earlier this summer, and U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea in August that, if it continued to threaten the U.S., he would unleash "fire and fury like the world has never seen."

Scholars warned at the time that Trump's menacing remarks signaled a potential shift in the U.S. policy toward the Korean peninsula — one which could result in a military solution.

“Usually, the U.S. government is willing to give more time for a resolution, to see how the resolutions bite,” Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, told The New York Times.

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Tourists have continued to arrive to Guam, however, and Japan also remains safe for visitors at this time, according to both private analysts as well as the U.S government. The State Department has not issued a travel warning or advisory for Japan, and a military intervention is not imminent.

Snyder pointed out that both missiles recently launched over Japan were tests that flew over the island nation but did not actively target the U.S. ally. There are no signs of an immediate attack, including the fact that North Korea remains in a testing phase, he said. 

A spokesperson from the State Department told T+L that travelers should visit the department's travel website and "remain aware," while monitoring local news and developments.

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