Japan army reservists at ready for gun-shy defense

Tue Feb 8, 2011 2:04am EST
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By Chisa Fujioka

YOKOSUKA, Japan (Reuters Life!) - Growing up in Japan, Yusuke Tsuge never imagined he'd run around in military fatigues or carry a rifle in a country that has not engaged in armed conflict since its defeat in World War Two.

But on a recent sunny day, Tsuge, a magazine editor, was among 42 Japanese taking part in training to join the military reserve force, in which ordinary people with day jobs stand by to help out the military when it is mobilized to defend the country.

Under a gun-shy, post-war defense policy, Japan has never deployed its reserve force, formed in 1954 and now with a headcount of 39,500.

Even the military, officially called the Self-Defence Forces (SDF), is untested in battle. Japan's pacifist constitution bans the maintenance of a military, although it has been stretched to allow armed forces for self-defense.

After saluting the national flag following an early morning formation drill, Tsuge and the other trainees, clad in uniforms and green helmets, slung rifles over their shoulders before marching to a field to practice surveillance and capturing enemy soldiers at gunpoint.

As a reservist with no military experience, Tsuge would not take part in front-line defense but could still be called on to guard army posts at home or to transport supplies. He could also be deployed to help the SDF in rescue work for earthquakes, floods and other disasters.

"I usually work in ordinary clothes so when I come in for training, put on my uniform and hold my rifle, I feel a sense of determination to do my duty," said the 33-year-old Tsuge, a car salesman before an interest in tank engines led him to work at a military magazine, at the SDF's Camp Takeyama in Yokosuka, 45 kilometers (28 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

"I have a family now, so I have a stronger feeling of wanting to protect my family and to protect my country," added Tsuge, dressed in crisp-clean fatigues and boots, who has a baby son.   Continued...