Timing is everything in SDF’s recruitment drive

Oddly timed enlistment blitz spurs youth unease despite J-pop spin

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Most regard it as ironic, but some call it sinister.

The Self-Defense Forces have launched an annual recruitment drive in the same week that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe handed Japan’s troops a new role.

On Tuesday, the day Abe said the Cabinet had decided to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution, the Defense Ministry launched a major campaign for new recruits, with TV commercials and online videos soliciting applications.

Starring entertainer Haruka Shimazaki, a member of the AKB48 all-girl pop and dance troupe, the commercials play an upbeat theme song and promote the military’s contributions to peace, reminding viewers that the SDF plays an important role in humanitarian missions overseas and are often at the forefront of relief work when natural disasters strike.

Under the slogan “You and Peace,” the commercials have Shimazaki presenting an SDF career as one that “abounds with unlimited dreams.” The videos tell viewers “there are some things you can only experience” by enlisting.

A Defense Ministry official told The Japan Times on Friday the timing had nothing to do with the Cabinet decision, adding that it is standard practice to launch recruitment campaigns at this time of the year.

“We picked Shimazaki because she is well-known, popular and belongs to a group that has consistently supported disaster relief efforts in the Tohoku region,” said a ministry spokesman.

He added that the ministry is generally careful to “avoid portraying SDF personnel as merely an object of admiration,” and tries to portray “the reality of their profession and its integrity.”

But some Internet users were bewildered by the SDF’s use of the pop idol, calling it an insidious effort by Abe to camouflage the military’s real purpose and persuade unsuspecting youths to put themselves in harm’s way.

Tuesday’s Cabinet decision authorized the SDF to exercise Japan’s U.N. right to engage in collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack, even if Japan is not itself under direct attack.

On Thursday, Twitter user @tatekawashiraku wrote: “The commercials should have had (Shimazaki) remind the young if they enroll now, they might be forced to fight in war.” Another, @sousuke_c, called the commercials “terrifying.”

The recruitment drive isn’t just online. Since Tuesday, the ministry has mailed letters to high school students nationwide encouraging them to enlist. Some of the students who received it were dismayed and convinced that the timing was not a coincidence.

Likening it to the notorious “akagami” letter that the Imperial Japanese Army sent out during the war to forcefully fill its ranks, Twitter user @550_kazu expressed “extreme disgust” at the SDF flyer. “It’s probably just an invitation this time. But in the near future, we’ll be receiving such letters under the system of military conscription. I strongly oppose wars.”

Another, @mzk_cooperation, said: “Wow, the government must be really desperate in handing out letters like this to a mere high school student like me. It’s probably a matter of time, though, before we’re all conscripted.”