The Times (of London) on 6 October carried a report by Richard Lloyd Parry and Robert Thomson on the ambiguous status of the Japanese military.
IF YOU encountered Tsutomu Mori as he travels to work in central Tokyo, you would never guess what he does for a living. Every day, hundreds of people like him in well-pressed suits and shiny shoes converge upon a well-guarded compound in the Ichigaya district.
Only there does he put on his olive uniform with its rows of medal ribbons and four stars. Safely concealed from public gaze, he emerges as General Mori, chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defence Force.
For 40 years he has risen up the ranks of one of the best-equipped military forces in the world. He meets his military counterparts from all over the globe (General Sir Mike Jackson was a recent visitor). But 60 years after the end of the Second World War, during which his father fought the British in Burma, he is constrained from wearing his uniform in public or from referring to his organisation as an army.
“It’s a delicate and complex question,” he told The Times. “For people like me it’s difficult to wear a uniform in a crowded train.” This is the continuing paradox of the Japanese military: despite being more active in the world than at any time since 1945, it remains close to an embarrassment for many of its countrymen.
That reminds me how embarrassed I was during the one day a week that we had to wear our uniforms to class during my only year of ROTC at the University of Richmond in 1967-68. (It would have been worse than embarrassing at a lot of other colleges, both then and now.) I ended up dropping ROTC for journalism class going into my sophomore year, but then dropped out of school altogether at midyear.
My only personal experience relevant to any “resurgent Japanese militarism” during my recent 2 months in Japan involved the combined recruiting office for all branches of the SDF on the outside ground floor of the busy Ashikaga Tobu line train station (60+ trains daily to and from Tokyo). The glass-fronted office was as big as the travel agency offices that can be found at any such train station. It had several large posters, like any travel office, but no racks of flyers and no visible customers. In fact, I never saw any activity whatsoever in that office, despite passing it several dozen times during normal business hours.
The way Japanese demographics are headed, the SDF is going to have to either recruit foreign legions or rely more heavily on robots in order to sustain itself, just as many Japanese factories are already doing.