Ragtag military left to defend Japan on shoestring budget


Camp Takada in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture, was established as an army post in 1908. Some of the wood-frame buildings originally constructed as horse stables are currently being used by the Ground Self Defense Force garrison as offices or barracks.

Their weatherbeaten appearance is not the sole problem. Writing in Shukan Shincho (April 8), journalist Misa Sakurabayashi notes that over 150 buildings used by the Self Defense Force are in need of seismic reinforcement.

"They're potentially dangerous," says a high-ranking member of the JSDF. "The previous LDP government had allocated 7.4 billion yen for refurbishing, but after the Hatoyama cabinet took over last August, 6.8 billion yen of those funds were frozen. So it's not going to happen."

Japan's defense budget declined from 4.93 trillion yen in 2002 to 4.63 trillion this fiscal year. Another result of the economy measures has been increasingly obsolete equipment. An officer at armored brigade in Tohoku explains that at the time of its introduction in 1990, Japan's main battle tank, the Type 90, was highly rated for its "world class" firepower. But that was 20 years ago.

"The '90 lacks the capability to share tactical data links between units, which has become the global standard," the source says. "We are finally getting the newest models, but of 58 units requested, this year's budget will only allocate 13."

If an army marches on its stomach, one shouldn't expect the GSDF to get very far. Despite its intended role as stalwart defender of the nation, mess hall allocations are said to be less than the 287 yen budgeted by some Tokyo middle school cafeterias.

"The daily budget is 850 yen per man, or about 283 yen per meal," an unnamed field grade officer tells Sakurabayashi. "Strapping paratroopers need heaping bowls of rice, so the budget for other foods has to be cut. If we serve curry with rice, there's not enough left for a salad to go with it."

At one base in Kansai, soldiers supplement their meager rations by picking plums from a nearby orchard and preserving them as "umeboshi."

"We've also found 'warabi' (bracken) growing wild on the hill by the powder magazine," says a junior officer. "We boil it in soy sauce; the men say it's not bad."

MSDF sailors on refueling assignment in the Indian Ocean around December 2001 had other problems. The air conditioning in their antiquated tanker was not suited for duty in the tropics, and the rice stocks became infested with mealy grubs.

"We laid out sheeting out on the deck and spread the rice over the sheets, and removed the grubs one by one," a mid-ranked officer tells the reporter.

Shukan Shincho parades out the some other belt-tightening measures on the land, sea, and in the air.

  • During training exercises, MSDF escort ships remain stationary or run at half power, with one propeller screw disengaged.

  • ASDF fighter pilots are under orders to conserve jet fuel by reducing speed to and from the training areas.

  • Existing equipment is typically cannibalized due to lack of spare parts.

  • Soldiers at some facilities are limited to bathing every other day, with only two hours of hot water availability per day.

  • Office supplies and stationery are in such short supply, some men are obliged to use their own money for coin-operated copy machines.

A GSDF sergeant at one post reveals that due to chronic shortages of toilet paper, it's literally every man for himself.

"It's better that way, at least from the standpoint that one person won't accuse his colleague of using too much," he says. "But we can't very well expect guests to bring their own toilet paper, so the men take up a collection and buy some for the visitors."

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So this is the wonderfull fighting machine that some like Yuri Otani claim can repel any attack from neighbours. Oh dear!

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“We laid out sheeting out on the deck and spread the rice over the sheets, and removed the grubs one by one,” a mid-ranked officer tells the reporter.

We had the same problem in Iraq. A better way to clean them out is to freeze the rice (killing the grubs) then put it in a tub of water. The rice stays on the bottom and the dead grubs float to the top and can be skimmed off easily.

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"Ragtag military left to defend Japan on shoestring budget"

Nonsense. The Japanese military has not been "left" by anyone to defend Japan. The powerful U.S. military is here to assist in Japan's defense.

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stevepc: "So this is the wonderfull fighting machine that some like Yuri Otani claim can repel any attack from neighbours. Oh dear!"

Hey, don't pick on Yuri! These wooden shacks built in 1908 could hold of Russia, China, and NK at the same time!! (sarcasm)

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Mark: "Nonsense. The Japanese military has not been "left" by anyone to defend Japan. The powerful U.S. military is here to assist in Japan's defense."

And yet some on here claim they are not needed and Japan can take care of itself. Hmmm...

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This is really appalling. This is what 1% of GDP gets you?

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All of your base belong to us.

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Japan is putting money into it's robot armies. I just have this feeling the Japanese are not just going to stand by waiting for an invasion to happen. They've got to be working on something. Armies that don't need to be fed or trained. Wouldn't that be awesome? Come WW3 and Japan unleashes it's real life Gundams and killer drones that can transform from plane to a bipedal bot. I can dream, no?

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This is very saddening. To think the once mighty Imperial Armed Forces are reduced to a second rate force that cant even defend its own teritory is terrible. I hope Japan's leaders acknowledge this and act on it.

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This is normal for a peace-time military. They get the low-end of the stick that measures the level of the sceptic tank. I was bemused by the way Japanese military titles are given corporate positions. For example, a full-bird colonel is called Bucho; a major - kakaricho and so on.

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Maybe it is time to realize that armies and the budget busting funds needed to maintain them is so 20th century. I just don't think that these problems need to come before food self-sufficiency, (as, yes, the population is increasing and food will be more and more scarce and much more expensive), or fixing the schools (student-teacher ratios are insane here as are the working hours), improving higher education (my own university didn't get the funds for new buildings until recently--they worked out of ones that looked like they were more suited for India), or paying off the freaking DEBT, so that we could, like, have a future. Abnyhow, maybe they need to reduce the number of soldiers so that they don't have to fight over food and toilet paper.

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Now some can understand the necessity of have the US as a military ally defending Japan. However, Hope Hato is the "genius" that is trying to destroy the alliance, and put Japan into a very precarious situation...

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Weaker SDF is good news for Asia, and at least China won't feel threatened by Japan when they pull back the marines. They are also keeping their military on a shoestring so it all balances - for now. There has obviously been a need to cut back and merge bases and operations which hasn't been done and this is the real story - poor leadership. Are they top heavy?

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This is the beginning of the campaign to psychologically prepare the Japanese for the huge military budgets needed before the crash comes. If they scare enough people, they will get their money. Now cue a few million $ channeled to NK via the secret forex accounts the J-gov have and don't talk much about and we should see a new missile test in the coming months. If there is any one country in the world ripening for communist revolution, it is Japan. Think about it, can you imagine a people more passive and willing to be controlled, no WISHING to be controlled than the average Japanese?

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As a former member of the military (the infantry), I should say that soldiers (especially) have to put up with a degree of discomfort when they are deployed. This is because every little convenience requires some poor sod to carry it. As such, I used to endure the pleasure of not bathing (or changing clothes) for 2 or 3 months at a time. Fresh food (even things like rice and the meely bugs) were also a delicacy. We invariably used to survive on something called "cxm in a cup" (which was the contents of a 24H ration pack - everything for chocolate to chicken satay - heated in a water bottle cup). The name itself came from the condensed milk we used to add as topping. Not exactly 5 star food, but it did the job.

That being said, however, having fixed facilities that are falling down around your ears is just not on. Furthermore, rationing toilet paper is ridiculous and dangerous, because using newspaper can be very painful.

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Why dont we let the USA do it?

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imomofo at 12:07 AM JST - 4th April

Japan is putting money into it's robot armies. I just have this feeling the Japanese are not just going to stand by waiting for an invasion to happen.

Very good point. Japan is super high tech.

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I'm really hoping that posters mentioning Japan building robot armies are just trolling because I cant believe someone would be this unintelligent. In any case, the current state of Japanese army will change swiftly if/when US leaves; them main reason for its unseemly state is the fact that they dont really need to worry about wars since US is expected to fight them for Japan. Once that is no longer the case, I would imagine that changes would come about quickly. Also, having fancy equipment isnt always a good indicator of fighting ability; Russians, for example, did fairly well in the wars that they fought with a lot crappier equipment than that of western countries.

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In any case, the current state of Japanese army will change swiftly if/when US leaves; them main reason for its unseemly state is the fact that they don't really need to worry about wars since US is expected to fight them for Japan.

And who do you think would arm a resurgent Japan? One of the issues that many people forget when talking about the US-Japan alliance is that the simple presence of the US Forces reins in some more extreme elements of Japan's political establishment. All you have to do is go down to the local train station and see who I mean (the clowns in the black trucks). If the US bugged out, perhaps it would be gloves off over some unresolved territorial issues.

Furthermore, if the US ever decided to put Japan to the test and leave the country, where would the Japanese buy the arms they need to defend themselves (if you believe that Japan would have to rearm in the absence of a US benefactor). Who knows, if the shoe were on the other foot, perhaps the US would not sell to Japan?

Finally, when I was in the army, I never trained with the Japanese Self Defense Forces, however, I do have a friend who tried to teach them the basics of mine-detection in Cambodia (with the UN Forces). His opinion was that your average Japanese grunt was a greater danger to himself than anybody else.

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To all the Posters that think Japan's state of military dis-repair can be fixed as soon as the USA leaves: You're dreaming.

Military's take DECADES to rebuild logistically. The American military, which is currently the most modern and well equipped fighting force is PERPETUALLY modernizing. If you take a break in this chain, the problem multiplies exponentially due to rising maintenance costs and the fact that the rest of the world does NOT take a break modernizing.

Now, we all know that despite the best equipment, it takes LEADERHIP to make a military. When people are on the verge of starvation, or forced to worry about things like where can I find dinner, the pool of your population that you have to draw from for a volunteer army diminishes. People don't want to live like that. If they have little money to EAT, I doubt they're spending much on LEADERSHIP. They're probably not enlisting or commissioning the best and teh brightest.

Which leads us to an overall problem that cannot be solved in the near term. This is not the way to run a nation's defense. Which in turn would be a good reason not to draw your greatest military Ally's Ire...

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just contract it out to blackwater

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Military Defense Spending and Budgets by Country:

1) United States - $515 billion (2009)

2) France - $61 billion (2008)

3) China - $59 billion (2008)

4) United Kingdom - $53 billion (2008)

5) Germany - $46 billion (2008)

6) Japan - $44 billion (2005)

7) Russia - $43 billion (2008)

Don't buy anything in this story as gospel truth just yet, gang. Even at only 1% of its annual GDP, Japan's $44 billion budget is more than enough to the keep the SDF running just fine.

This asinine story is a poor man's version of the militaristic drivel put out by the asshats who dragged Japan and the rest of the Eastern Hemisphere into that Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere nonsense way back when.

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Furthermore, if the US ever decided to put Japan to the test and leave the country, where would the Japanese buy the arms they need to defend themselves

Usually you post good stuff on anything military and defence-related but this one just wrong on so many levels.

First off, Japan develops, produces, and buys a lot of its kit domestically, especially the GSDF - tanks, APCs, assault rifles, ammunition. It doesn't buy these from the US.

Second, aircraft and naval vessels are a mix of domestic designs and stuff licensed from the US, not quite "bought" from the US. Japan has the capability and capacity to design and build its own.

Third, there's a logical flaw in your point. Even if the US totally withdrew all forces from Japan (unlikely), why would that mean that Japan would have no ability to purchase technology or kit from the US? Is hosting US forces a prerequisite for military sales? Does Australia host forces to allow then to buy Super Hornets, Blackhawks, Apaches? If anything, if the US pulled out it would sell MORE to Japan.

Anyway, I think people are giving far too much credence to an article full of anonymous statements by SDF personnel which is a translation of something that appeared in "Shukan Shinsho".

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The chronic shortage of toilet tissue is a terrible state of affairs.

It's quite obvious the Japanese military is just papering over the cracks here.

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Defense spending will be difficult to increase in Japan, since they have to finance their bloated government payrolls. At least they are spending good amounts on R&D, however this is mostly on toys, not real true and tried weapons like the US, China and Russia are working on.

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I usually have a high degree of respect for your military experience and comments. However you seem to be under the impression that those black truck wackjobs are somehow powerful enough to bring back militarism and dictatorship to a country that has prospered beyond it's dreams as a democratic nation for 65 years. Those right wingers are about as representative of Japan and the true powers that control it (political and business)as the KKK are representative of the United States. The notion of "reigning in" the extreme elements is quite frankly a fallacy. The United States forced Article 9 on Japan then in 1950 again forced Japan to create a military, the forerunner of today's JSDF. Since then we have continued to try and get Japan to re-militarize and adopt collective defense. in the 1980s Ronald Regan asked PM Suzuki for Japan to help defend Guam in the event of an attack and they refused. We asked them for troops in PG War I and they refused, opting to pay for most of the operation instead. If anything Japan has gone so far the other way from it's pre-WWII past that we feel we are being taken for a ride to a great extent. As to Japan's militarey equipment, Japan, along with all of our allies an important US customer with a logical need for integration and adaptability with US forces and equipment. However nearly all US equipment is made by the Japanese under license or joint development arrangements. As for the true capability of the JSDF, well, they are fine according to the USMC with whom they train, but naturally they are a force that is lacking any real combat experience. AS for this article I take it with a grain of salt, and if completely true omne would think keeping the quite heavy investment that Japan is spending on defense current should supercede "giving away fuel" to allied ships in the Indian Ocean.

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This seems like "advocacy" journalism to me also - a right wing slant on the unprepardeness of the JSDF to foster public support for increased defense spending, by the "Ret Gen Toshio Tamagami's" and his ilk. I've been working with the JSDF since early 80's - they do have some older facilities in the more far reaches of the country, but their equipment is all top-notch, and compared to our US military, extremely well cared for. I think the stories about toilet paper, etc, are far-fetched.

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While Japan's defence outlays appear relatively high by international comparison, I recall having seen data to the effect that a high proportion of the funding goes to personnel-related costs -- salaries, bonuses, etc., which are pegged to the same benchmarks as other national government employees.

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Let Japan go the way of Costa Rica, and not have a freakin army or self-defense force. They have done just fine, and as a result, had no coups or problems with invasions from other countries. And the pay off, more money for things that matter, schools, roads. I just don't see China as a problem as they don't even have a navy to take over Taiwan and that would be the first target if they ever went ballistic. Taking over Japan is far beyond my imagination, and why would you do it in the first place. If you succeed, you inherit a society that has been destroyed, and needs to be re-built, and a people that hates your guts. No, the Chinese are doing it the smart way--taking over economies, bit by bit, through capitalism. So, instead of spending on freakin armies, maybe we should use that money for some people to start-up new companies, as that is where I learned that all the new jobs are started.

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Rat, clever idea. Servicemen buying toilet paper for guests.... Jesus that is sad. I will post a complaint on the White House site and perhaps I can get that sorted.

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I chased down some figures after reading LFRAgain's post. The data cited in the post was edited for clarity but left out some additional telling information that Japan needs to consider:

Compare China's change in spending vs. GDP to Japan's over the last 10 years. Even though Japan's defense is hurting, they actually REDUCED spending on defense over the last decade. China, meanwhile, has spun-up their spending exponentially. I'm sure this is just so they can provide weapons and material to their neighbors in need, right?

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I just assumed that that's what the high school baseball players were being trained for. They're marching and yelling cadence outside my window as I type now.

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They probably want the F-35's by saying: We are hanging by a thread (the budget) or something.

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Well I'm pretty sure the military budget will have to increase if the US goes home. If the SDF is in such a state it's because the US has been doing the heavy lifting for all these years.

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Japan's tax rate is lower than the U.S. tax rate - mainly because they don't have to fund a real military capable of defending Japan from any aggressors. Taxes for Japanese citizens will HAVE to increase if the U.S. pulls back to Guam. It doesn't do any good to have the U.S. protecting Japan from their base in Guam if Japan's cities are flattened in the first wave.

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