Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was unhurt after a man threw a cylindrical object which exploded ahead of a stump speech he was due to make during his visit to western Japan on Saturday, less than a year after a former premier was fatally shot during election campaigning.
Kishida immediately left by car after the incident, which took place as he was talking with a candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party just before his scheduled speech at a fishing port in the city of Wakayama. According to investigative sources, Ryuji Kimura, a 24-year-old man from Hyogo Prefecture, was arrested at the scene.
In a stump speech elsewhere in the city, Kishida said the incident should not be allowed to disrupt the electoral process. "Together with you all, we have to carry on with the election."
The object was thrown at around 11:25 a.m. from among a crowd of people. A loud explosion was heard shortly afterward, sending people fleeing in panic.
Footage by the public broadcaster NHK showed the suspect holding another silver cylinder as he was wrestled to the ground by two nearby civilians and police officers.
Investigative sources said the suspect brought with him two pieces of objects believed to be explosive devices, including the one used in the attack.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters at the prime minister's office, "Elections are a bedrock of democracy. It is extremely unforgivable that such violence took place (at such a time)."
Matsuno, Japan's top government spokesman, said police are investigating the suspect's motive and called for the National Police Agency to ensure the protection of VIPs.
The suspect is refusing to answer police questions in the absence of a lawyer, according to the local police. He was only 10 meters or so away from Kishida when he threw the object, they said.
The NHK footage showed one of Kishida's security guards pressing down on the object thrown in his direction and kicking it back as the prime minister was escorted out of the site.
A man is held down after throwing a cylindrical object at Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Wakayama, western Japan, on April 15, 2023. (Kyodo)
Naoya Tanimoto, who was among the crowd awaiting Kishida's speech, said he heard a loud explosion around 10 seconds after the suspect was held down. "It is usually quiet in the fishing port, so I was really scared. We were all in a panic," Tanimoto, 31, said.
Only one minor injury, that a local police officer, was reported.
After the incident, Kishida was escorted by security police officers to a car parked just a dozen meters away and driven to the headquarters of the Wakayama prefectural police.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot in July last year during a stump speech in the city of Nara before the House of Councillors election, leading the NPA to bolster its VIP security.
The agency had also called for security to be stepped up ahead of House of Representatives by-elections in late April and the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima in May.
The latest incident took place during official campaigning for a lower house by-election in the Wakayama No. 1 district.
The NPA said it has reviewed in advance the security plans made by the local police in Wakayama and they were carried out in line with the guidelines made after Abe's incident.
Mitsuru Fukuda, professor of emergency and crisis risk management at Nihon University, said the location at the port selected for Kishida's speech was far from ideal for such an event and there should have been a much larger distance between him and the audience.
The incident hurts the credibility of the Japanese police's VIP protection programs ahead of the G-7 summit, Fukuda said.
A woman in her 50s who works near the fishing port said, "I thought there was some kind of explosion and something similar to what happened to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have occurred."
In Sapporo, Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada's minister of natural resources, said on the fringes of the G-7 ministers' meeting on climate, energy and environmental issues that he heard about the incident.
"We are all very happy that he (Kishida) is well," Wilkinson said at the outset of a bilateral meeting with Japan's economy and trade minister Yasutoshi Nishimura
Chronology of major attacks on politicians in Japan
The following is a list of major attacks on politicians in Japan.
Jan. 18, 1990 -- Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima shot by member of right-wing group, suffers serious injury.
March 20, 1992 -- Shin Kanemaru, vice president of ruling Liberal Democratic Party, unhurt after gun shots fired in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture.
May 30, 1994 -- Ex-Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa unhurt after gun attack at Tokyo hotel.
Oct. 25, 2002 -- Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Koki Ishii stabbed to death by right-wing group leader.
April 17, 2007 -- Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito shot by senior member of crime syndicate, dies next day.
July 8, 2022 -- Ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dies after being shot by man while giving stump speech in Nara.
April 15, 2023 -- Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unhurt after explosives attack during campaigning for by-election in Wakayama.