Think of all the credibility trashed by the March 11 earthquake-tsunami-meltdown. Tokyo Electric Power Company’s is now zero, the government’s not much higher. Distrust and contempt for an intellectual, corporate and power elite seen as having driven Japan into this tragic mess are deep, surly and pervasive. That’s not likely to change soon.
One institution however, not much regarded until now, has seen its luster brighten – the Self-Defense Forces. So impressive have the quiet heroics of servicemen and women been, reports Weekly Playboy (June 13), that young people increasingly at loose ends in a stalled economy have shown a sudden interest in signing up – not simply for lack of something better but as a path to a fulfilling and productive life.
The biggest disaster in Japan’s postwar history generated the biggest SDF deployment in its history – some 100,000 troops, out of a total of 230,000. Within 11 minutes of the quake, the first Maritime SDF helicopters were hovering overhead. Ground forces quickly followed. One enlisted man was celebrating his marriage when the quake struck – he sped to the scene in his wedding finery. Other members had lost family, friends, homes. It didn’t stop them. Nothing did. Apart from the practical services they’re performing, they’re giving a very depressed nation something to admire.
“Never, ever, have I been deployed to any scene so shocking,” Weekly Playboy hears from one four-year veteran. He was in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, searching through rubble for survivors hopefully, corpses if worse came to worst, as it usually did. “I found my first within five minutes, a man in a car, already dead. Since then, I’ve found dozens of bodies. For the first few days, I couldn’t sleep. Some troops were hit really hard, emotionally. Mental health care squads are out making the rounds. Still, compared to what the victims are going through, our suffering is no big deal.”
Weekly Playboy gives its feature an English title: “Should I join the SDF? All about Japan Self-Defense Force for young people.” It poses some basic questions, and offers answers. For example: “Is there bullying in the SDF?” Yes and no, is the answer. There’s no nonsense about the SDF, the magazine’s sources warn. You obey orders, or else. You stifle your complaints, or else. To some, that’s bullying. If it is to you, you’re better off grubbing in the civilian sector.
“Q: If war breaks out, can I quit?” No, you cannot. You can apply for release, which you probably wouldn’t get in wartime. Leaving without it is a punishable violation of the SDF Law. In the SDF, your life isn’t quite your own, in the sense you’re probably used to. Accept that, or look elsewhere.
“Q: I’m physically weak – is that OK?” Yes – to begin with. Don’t worry. The SDF training regimen – pushups, chin-ups, long-distance running, and so on and so on – will mold that body of yours into a fine instrument – if you can stand it.
“Q: How much is the pay?” Not impressive at first sight – average 237,800 yen at age 30 – but there are benefits, including on-base housing, which compensate. Then there are the various increments. One to two thousand yen a day, for example, if you’re unearthing bodies from earthquake rubble.© Japan Today