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The Ground Self-Defense Force has established its first public relations center, aiming to offer potential young recruits a positive image of the nation’s de facto army.

The GSDF Public Information Center is essentially an amusement arcade, designed to appeal to the young, or young at heart.

Located on the Asaka base, stretching over the city of Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, and Nerima Ward, Tokyo, the 1.6 billion yen center opens to the public Saturday.

In a 3-D theater, a demonstration exercise features a barrage of weapons. Nearby, an antitank helicopter simulator takes kids for a virtual dive.

Gamers compete, firing from tanks and helicopters — although ironically the system may be disappointing for children used to more advanced computer games.

Visitors can also take photos of themselves in camouflage suits against a variety of backgrounds, similar to the “print club” machines popular with teens.

Fatigues are available in sizes for anyone from an 80-cm-tall child to a tall adult.

Teddy bears in camouflage jackets line a shelf in the souvenir shop.

Although the Self-Defense Forces have recently had less trouble recruiting because of the poor economy, the nation’s decreasing population of young people still causes concern.

“We hope many young people will come and feel familiar with the force,” said Lt. Col. Shoji Tateno, director of the PR center, adding that it plans to hold various events to encourage visitors to return.

A marked omission from the center, however, is a focus on the bloodier side of war. Exhibits instead focus on peacetime activities of the GSDF, including peacekeeping operations and disaster relief.

Visitors will likewise find no trace of the Imperial Japanese Army, unlike a similar facility for the Maritime Self-Defense Force in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, filled with memorabilia of the Imperial Navy.

“We have always attempted to dispel the image of the Imperial army,” a GSDF public relations officer said.

An SDF facility designed to appeal to children may have angered many teachers not long ago. But in recent years, an increasing number of schools are taking students to local SDF bases and facilities as part of education programs, according to Defense Agency officials.

In fiscal 2000, about 400 classes and schools visited GSDF bases nationwide as part of education programs, according to the GSDF. Tateno said the PR center is also scheduled to host its first high school excursion, from Akita Prefecture, in late April.

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