TELEVISION scenes of American pilots bearing bombs to Iraq quickly led Japan to raise its contribution to the Gulf effort. Partially shedding a pacifist posture, Japan's leaders huddled yesterday. They arranged for military transport aircraft to be sent to the Gulf region, decided to give ``several billion'' more dollars to the United States, and came out squarely behind the US-led military action.
``Our nation,'' Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu told a national television audience, ``is determined to provide assistance as much as possible to actions of allied nations to restore international peace and stability.''
The emperor canceled his vacation, parliament was called to meet a week earlier than planned, and police beefed up security against possible terrorism in Japan.
A top business leader, Gaishi Hiraiwa, president of the Federation of Economic Organizations, called on the government ``swiftly'' to carry out measures to aid the multinational forces. Outbreak of war also spurred the government to find volunteer medical workers to send to the Gulf region.
But Japanese leaders fell short of committing troops to the Gulf region, even after repeated US requests, citing legal constraints and public memories of past militarism. ``I'd like to see the Rising Sun flag on scene [in the Gulf],'' said retired US Adm. James Lyons, former commander of both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, on a visit to Tokyo.
He said Japan could ``creatively'' get around any constraints if it wanted to.
``The issue is not Japan's past,'' Admiral Lyons said, ``The issue is what kind of Japan it will be in the future.''
Mr. Kaifu said that Japanese military transport aircraft would be sent only for humanitarian purposes in response to the request from the United Nations Relief Agency. He said such action is legally justified under the Self-Defense Forces Act.
This view was supported by Shin Kanemaru, Japan's most powerful politician.
Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japan's finance minister, said a tax increase on oil might be needed to help pay for the additional money for the US-led forces in the Gulf. Mr. Hashimoto told a news conference that the aid would be more comprehensive than the package previously pledged by Japan. Japan had already given $2 billion to the anti-Iraq forces. Japanese officials have asked US officials to provide statistical justification for Japan's share of the war spending.
Small pro-war and antiwar protests sprung up in Tokyo, but most Japanese followed daily routines. A few dozen people gathered to watch news of the war displayed on an array of televisions at the Sony building in the Ginza shopping district. Interest in the war caused many newspapers to triple their runs for evening editions.
Early reports of military success against Iraq and the prospect of a quick war helped boost the Tokyo Stock Exchange by more than 4 percent yesterday, and the yen rose in value against the dollar. To prevent a surge of oil prices, the government announced that it would draw down on stockpiled reserves.
[Reuters reported that Iraqi artillery fire hit empty oil product tanks at an oil terminal in the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait but missed a 30,000 barrel-per-day refinery owned by Japan's Arabian Oil Company Ltd. No one was hurt.
[``They tried with artillery from Kuwait to hit the refinery, but they only managed to get empty product tanks,'' an oil industry source said. ``There was no damage to the refinery and no damage of any considerable concern.''
[In the days leading up to the war, Iraq threatened to retaliate by hitting oil production in the region, which supplies more than half of the world's oil.
[Arabian Oil has said it would stop crude oil production and refining in Saudi Arabia near the Kuwait border after a request from the Saudi Arabian government.]