With an Eye on Militarism, Japan Uses Pop Culture to Appeal to a New Generation

Surrounded on all sides by ocean, postwar Japan has long been able to rely upon the United States military for strategic protection. But tense territorial disputes with neighboring countries, the capture and beheading of two Japanese journalists by ISIS in February, and the horror of the terror attacks in Paris have all served to remind the Japanese of the limits of physical isolation and dependence upon others. This, in turn, has fed an ongoing debate over the mission of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Is their role truly one of self-defense, pure and simple? Or does the Japanese constitution allow for preemptive strikes outside of domestic borders, in the manner of a traditional military? The question won’t be settled anytime soon. But it’s fascinating to watch how Japan’s armed forces have endeared themselves to the Japanese public. The militaries of many nations harness mass media and pop culture for promotional purposes: the United States cooperates with Hollywood; Russia ostentatiously unveils a three-tiered “war center” seemingly modeled on a Bond villain’s lair. Japan is no different. But what makes their military unusual is that the image being projected isn’t one of might or machismo but of cuteness.

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