TOKYO: Japan's failure to rescue two hostages beheaded by Islamic State militants has raised doubts about its ability to handle an international crisis, as the country reels from news of journalist Kenji Goto's killing.
Analysts say the murders mark a "wake-up call" for Japan -- an officially pacifist country that has long avoided involvement in Middle East conflicts -- and that its response to the crisis, at times flat-footed, reveals the weakness of its diplomatic resources in the region.
"The government lacked information and that made it difficult for them to handle the situation," said Takashi Kawakami, a security expert and professor at Takushoku University.
"It's a wake-up call. After this experience, they have to boost intelligence operations at home and overseas."
The Islamic State group claimed in a video released Saturday that it had killed respected war correspondent Goto -- the second purported beheading of a Japanese hostage in a week after the death of his friend Haruna Yukawa.
As the crisis unfolded, Tokyo's relative lack of contacts and know-how in the region became apparent.
Japan seemed almost solely dependent on key ally Jordan -- which was itself trying to free an air force pilot who crashed in IS-held territory in late December.
Yesterday Tokyo said it was moving to strengthen its intelligence-gathering operations, as well as boosting security at Japanese facilities around the world.
Masanori Naito, a professor of Islamic and Middle East studies at Kyoto-based Doshisha University, said Japan would have been wiser to seek more help from Turkey, which has previously secured the release of IS hostages.
"It's likely the government will start studying the idea of using Japan's military" in situations where Japanese are in danger abroad, he added.
The top-selling Yomiuri newspaper echoed that point, saying it was "important for the government and ruling parties to deepen discussion on the issue".
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing to alter the pacifist constitution to broaden the capability of its military, which since World War II has been restricted to a self-defence role.
But the idea has been met with a lukewarm public response, and the hostage crisis has amplified misgivings over Abe's push to boost Japan's diplomatic role on the world stage.
In the IS video, Goto's apparent executioner warns that the killing is the result of Tokyo's "reckless" policies and would mark the beginning of a "nightmare for Japan".