Japan's 'survival game' fans play at combat, wary of war

Wed Jun 10, 2015 7:12pm EDT
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By Linda Sieg

YOTSUKAIDO CITY, Japan (Reuters) - Dressed in camouflage fatigues and sweating in the summer heat, Kento Atari and his comrades sneak through the woods trying to outfox their enemies in a mock military exercise.

"I've been hit," yells one, emerging with hands held high.

The young Japanese, armed not with real weapons but air guns that shoot plastic pellets, are devotees of so-called "survival games", which are increasingly popular in a land whose soldiers have not gone into battle since defeat in World War Two.

Atari and other engaged in faux combat at Camp Devgru, a "war field" east of Tokyo, say their hobby does not equate with fondness for real conflict, reflecting an enduring public allergy to war that is a hurdle for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he pushes for a more muscular defense policy.

"You can get a thrill that you can't in everyday life ... it's fun and it's like a sport," said Atari, a tall 24-year-old, during a lunch break at Camp Devgru one recent Saturday. "But it's separate from war. I am against war."

Atari and his mates say they play survival games to blow off steam, get some fresh air and exercise and indulge their fascination with military gear, albeit fake. Most are men, but couples also come on dates, women tag along with friends, and Camp Devgru sponsors a "Fathers Day" event for dads and kids.

"This is just a hobby," said another 24-year-old, Takuya Oki. "I myself oppose war."

Polls suggest most Japanese share such sentiments, despite worries over threats such as from an assertive and rising China.   Continued...

A participant of a "survival game" and a former Japanese Self Defense Force personnel, poses for pictures with his air gun at a field in Chiba, Japan, May 30, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino