A Pacifist Japan Starts to Embrace the Military

“We have been living in peace for such a long time that we believe this peace is going to last forever,” said Ichiro Miyazoe, 74, walking in the Ikebukuro neighborhood of Tokyo after the latest test from Pyongyang on Tuesday. “Japan has had a weak attitude, like a losing dog. We must have a stronger military.”


More than 26,000 people attended the Fuji drills. Applications for tickets were oversubscribed by a factor of nearly six to one this year.

Tomohiro Ohsumi for The New York Times

Although the Japanese public has long been ambivalent about Mr. Abe’s agenda — polls show that about half or more of respondents disagree with his efforts to revise the pacifist clause of the Constitution — its fascination with the military has been growing.

Applications for tickets to attend the Fuji drills were oversubscribed by a factor of nearly six to one this year. According to polls by the prime minister’s cabinet office, the share of those who say they are interested in the Self-Defense Forces has risen to 71 percent in 2015, up from about 55 percent in the late 1980s.

Manga comics and anime television shows like “Gate,” which feature the Self-Defense Forces fighting against supernatural creatures, have grown popular, while online matchmaking sites offering dates with soldiers have become trendy.

Of course, such activities do not necessarily translate into a desire for a more assertive national defense policy. The most important function of the Self-Defense Forces is disaster relief, and support for the forces soared in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, when troops rescued victims and restored disaster-ravaged zones.

But at events like the live-fire drills near Mount Fuji, some members of the public are starting to consider the possibility that their military could be called upon to perform more than live exercises or disaster relief.

“Once the U.S. or South Korea engages in a war, Japan will also have to take part,” said Masaaki Ishihara, 60, a manager at a construction company in Yokohama who attended the Sunday drills with his wife, 9-year-old son and a friend. “Japan will be forced to get involved.”


A tank fired during the exercises. There are signs that the public’s devotion to pacifism and its attitude toward the Japanese military have begun to evolve, in part at the…

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