Cute Japan pop star recruits soldiers as Abe boosts military

Wed Jul 9, 2014 5:03am EDT
 
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By Minami Funakoshi

TOKYO (Reuters) - Just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe beefs up Japan's military, the armed forces have turned to a 20-year pop idol for a softer touch in recruiting soldiers in a country that revels in all things cute.

"Working for the Self-defense Forces presents boundless dreams - like the earth, ocean and the sea," says Haruka Shimazaki of the all-girl group AKB48 in a new 30-second commercial distributed by the Defense Ministry.

"There's work that you can only do here," she says with a smile. A pink heart-shaped cherry petal spins as she points to the English phrase "You AND PEACE."

The nationally broadcast ad was released last week on the same day that Abe made his latest move toward a more muscular military, easing restrictions on Japanese troops fighting overseas. In April he eased decades-old restrictions on military exports after ending a decade of defense-spending cuts, worrying giant neighbor China.

It was just a coincidence that the ad, part of a broader recruitment drive, came out just when Abe's Cabinet was reinterpreting the pacifist, post-World War Two constitution to allow Japan's 224,526-strong military to defend friendly nations under attack, said a Defense Ministry spokesman.

"We want to give a friendly image and make it easier for youth to apply to the Self-defense Forces," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named, citing ministry policy. "We chose a member of AKB48 because the group is popular and well-known among high school students, the main target of our recruitment."

Shimazaki is one of the more bankable stars of the pop group. Fans recently voted her No. 7 among the 296 members of AKB48 and its sister groups.

The idol was selected, in part, because she had an earnest image, said an official at Asahi Advertising Inc, the ad agency that pitched Shimazaki to the Defense Ministry. Shimazaki previously did a spot for the Japanese Red Cross Society.   Continued...

 
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) and his wife Akie (L) are led to the stage by Japanese singer Natsuko Godai (R) and members of Japanese girls' pop group AKB48, Haruka Shimazaki (2nd L) and Minami Takahashi (2nd R), during a gala dinner of the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit meeting hosted by Abe, in Tokyo December 14, 2013. REUTERS/Toshifumi Kitamura/Pool