Last week saw good-sized crowds flock over to the training grounds of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) right at the foothills of the iconic Mount Fuji as Japan’s military ran their annual drills. These have become showcases for the tanks and the self-propelled guns, the helicopters and all the other military equipment that the SDF are using to show their commitment in defending Japan’s territory, and the Japanese people are lapping it up, showing obvious delight and admiration for the armed forces. A surprising revelation here is that anime characters are helping fuel this fascination for the Japanese military.
Only 6,000 observation places were made available to the Japanese public this year for the annual military exercises, but a record 110,000 people applied for these places. Some are suggesting that people are suddenly finding howitzers and tanks “sexy” because of an anime series called Girls und Panzer. The animated show revolves around a group of girls – typical anime girls with short skirts and school uniforms complete with oversized doe-eyes – who study “the way of the tank” as a martial art. “Girls und Panzer” has been very popular, and plastic models of the girls’ tanks have been selling out at toy stores in Japan.
Posters promoting Japan’s military also use the cute cartoon character Prince Pickles, shown in different incarnations as a pilot, a soldier and sailor. By extension, this recruitment and awareness campaign is also using characters from the cult British TV show Thunderbirds to generate hype. “The campaign has been effective and the collaboration on the Thunderbirds posters really helped to raise the profile of careers in the military,” said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo.
In the last fiscal year, there was an estimated 50,000 applications submitted by Japanese citizens to join up for the Self-Defense Forces, steadily growing from 47,000 the year before, and 43,000 applicants the previous year. Applications at the Japan Coastguard Academy in Kure, Hiroshima prefecture, were also up by 50 per cent on the previous year, with 16,783 applications this year. Young Japanese are increasingly seeing the work of the SDF as glamorous and exciting, and there is a sense among them that joining the SDF would allow them opportunities to help the public in the event of natural disasters like the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.