On early Tuesday morning, North Korea fired a missile over northern Japan and into the North Pacific Ocean. In multiple sources, this missile test has been described as a huge "unprecedented, serious and grave threat" to Japan.

Previously, North Korea have only fired projectiles over Japanese territory twice and in both cases, these were said to be carrying satellites into orbit; no such claim has been made this time around.

It's easy to understand why Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un would (and have been) threatening one-another with missile strikes:

It is important to remember North Korea's attitude as well. Officially, the Korean War in the 1950's never ended. What the world has been living with is actually a 60-year ceasefire. North Korea and the United States are still technically at war with each other. Source.

What I don't understand though, is what firing missiles over (and therefore threatening) Japanese territory will achieve?

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    Same thing as in the past: trolling the West, and putting its missile-firing capabilities on display. Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 10:52
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    Presumably, the missile "test" was in response to a Japan - US joint drill on Hokaido. North Korea considers these drills provocative.
    – yannis
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 11:05
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    They are gaining the information that they can fire as many missiles as they want and no one will do anything
    – Charlie
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 11:43
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    IMO the fact Japan/US did not shot it down is a already victory of NK. This missle it self is not much of a threat, but it invalidates a lot of statement of threats towards NK. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 2:06
  • It is a well plan troll. First, it kept the precision in speculation, since it is difficult to salvage rocket that falls into the sea. Second, it is difficult and a bad idea to intercept a rocket when it move across unpopulated area. Even you can do so, it will show the trump card of you missile shoot down capabilities to the world.
    – mootmoot
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


Two things to consider...

as theman26 noted, orbital missile launches are done west to east, to coordinate with the spin of the earth. However, the DPRK doesn't appear to be building missiles as part of a space exploration program.

Since the DPRK openly threatens the ROK, the US, and Japan, and has kidnapped Japanese citizens over the years, the fact that this launch carried over Japan is also a threatening move. After all, that missile could possibly carry a nuclear warhead, so the DPRK is demonstrating that it can hit Japan with a nuke.

It's a very dangerous game to play. If you threaten another nation with nuclear arms, they will take that threat seriously. Japan, more than most nations, is likely to react strongly to a nuclear threat. They have some experience with the subject.

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    Does this answer the question?
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 15:59
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    @Bregalad "DPRK is demonstrating that it can hit Japan with a nuke." seems to be this answer. Commented Jan 12, 2019 at 20:58
  • NK already has an unstated policy of holding the residents of Seoul hostage by massing missiles and artillery nearby. This is one of the deterrents to US (and South Korean) attacks against NK - "attack us, we'll kill some of your friends". As a result, you can expect SK to lobby the US for restraint. This is extending the paradigm to another US ally, within closer range of their nukes than say Seattle and with possibly less ABM defense. China would put a big damper on Japan developing a bomb to match NK, so there isn't that much downside for NK - they're already pariahs anyway. Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 4:41

This probably has minimal to do with Japan, but rather to do with the fact that Japan is east of North Korea and that launches are done west to east so that they can leverage the spin of the earth to use less fuel going into orbit (1).

They are probably launching them west to east not because they are attempting to threaten Japan but rather because it is more fuel (and money) efficient to launch in that direction and japan happens to be east of them.

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