For Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party did well in regional elections in December, the crisis with the Islamic State presents Japan with a dilemma. Since assuming the country’s top office, Abe has supported removing Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, a pacifist measure that has guided Japanese foreign policy since World War II. The prime minister has argued that the clause has become anachronistic in a world where China, a longtime adversary, has greatly improved its military capacity. Following the elections in December, Defense Minister Gen. Nakatami explained the rationale.

“Japan’s security environment has changed, and we must fortify our national security,” he said.

However, there’s no guarantee Yukawa’s death will galvanize public support for Abe’s proposal. An unstable man with a history of mental illness, Yukawa had traveled to Syria last summer with the intention of working as a private security contractor. Since his capture in August, the public has largely reacted with anger that he placed himself in such a dangerous situation. In 2004, the capture of four Japanese aid workers in Iraq elicited a similar lack of sympathy back home.