The Reiwa Era began last month, and just like Heisei stood apart from Showa before it, this new period in Japanese history promises to witness notable changes in the country’s government and society. What those changes are and how they will affect Japan’s place in the world are important considerations, and they are especially relevant to the Self-Defense Forces — an entity that has evolved much since its inception in 1954.

If one attached themes to each of the eras spanning the postwar period, the Showa Era (which lasted until 1989) would be marked by the SDF seeking its place within Japanese government and society. Among the public, the SDF held notoriously low standing. At worst, SDF personnel were seen as holdovers of the old runaway imperial military. A more common perception was that they were zeikin dorobo — “tax thieves” who were unnecessary drains on Japan’s otherwise booming economy.

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