Japan Self Defence Force JSDF

  1. Introduction
  2. Branches
    2.1 Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force JMSDF
    2.2 Japan Air Self-Defence Force JASDF
    2.3 Japan Ground Self-Defence Force JGSDF
  3. 9th Article of Japanese constitution
  4. Iraq
  5. Defence policy of Japan
  6. Uniforms Ranks
  7. Recruitment
  8. Characters of JSDF
  9. U.S Forces stationed in Japan
  10. Public opinion in Japan

1. Introduction

Japan Ground Self Defence Force JGSDF members
Japan Ground Self Defence Force JGSDF members
Permission under Public Domain as a work of the United States Marine Corps.

Japan does not have army, but a self defence force. Japan self defence force is usually referred to as JSDF or JSF. It is hard to think about JSDF as an army or military unit. When comparing the institution to other countries establishments, it is obvious that JSDF really is a force for self defence of Japan only. Japan does not have compulsory military training, but is an all-volunteer force. Article 18 of Japanese constitution forbids involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime.

The Japan Self Defence Force does not have a separate suppreme commander. The suppreme commander of JSDF is the Prime Minister of Japan.

2. Branches

2.1 Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force JMSDF

MSDF, Kaijo Jietai, takes care of the naval defence of Japan. MSDF was formed after the World War II. The official strength of JMSDF is 46,000 personnel, 119 major war ships, submarines, twenty three destroyers and frigates, amphibious ships, almost two hundred aircrafts and helicopters.

Sailors aboard Japanese destroyer JS KONGO
Sailors aboard Japanese destroyer JS KONGO.
Permission under Public Domain as a work of the employee of
US Navy .

As an island nation, Japan is depends on the maritime vessels and transportation of goods. MSDF could therefore be the key facility of Japanese defense policy.

MSDF has been largely critisized because of the collisions with civilian vessels. Feb 19, 2008 it's 7,750-ton Aegis destroyer Atago collided with 7.3-ton tawler Seitoku Maru. Two fishermen aboard the trawler were killed. There has been a number of these events during the recent years, but a proper safety measures haven't been taken. We only wonder when the next accident will come.

MSDF has been dispatched on various missions abroad, despite the fact that 9th article of constitution forbids it. There was a debate on the refueling missions on Indian ocean, while Japan privided logistical support for the US coalition forces.

2.2 Japan Air Self-Defence Force JASDF

JASDF, Koku Jietai, is the Japan Air Self Defence force. They patrol the Japan airspace, and keep up the air early warning radar systems. Blue Impulse is JASDF's aerobatic team that has been recently been involved providing air transport for UN peacekeeping missions.

JASDF has mostly American made planes, such as 160 F-15 fighters, F-4 Phantom planes, and Mitsubishi F-2 fighters. They are not allowed to have bomber planes or other offensive weapon, as it would break the Self-Defence only policy. JASDF often helps in search and rescue operations, and medical transportation.

JASDF command has headquarters in Misawa, Iruma and Kasuga, and Naha in Okinawa.

2.3 Japan Ground Self-Defence Force JGSDF

JASDF F-15J fighter planes taking off
Permission under Public Domain as a work of the
US Federal government.

GSDF is the Japan's land army. They have headquarters in Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Itami, and Kengun. The training of the forces is mostly based on simulators, as real exercises are not possible due to limited space. As of May 2009, the ground staff's chief is General Yoshifumi Hibako. The GSDF has 147,000 soldiers. Unlike in other branches, the weapons GSDF are mostly originated from Japan, such as Type 90 battle tank or Sumitomo machine gun.

The ground self defence force's units are virtually invisible in Japanese media. There are no parades or exhibitions to speak of and there appears to be almost no way to get into contact with the service men and interview them.

3. 9th article of Japanese constitution

The constitution of Japan says "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes". It also says, "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." The constitution renounces war, and declares that Japan should not engage into other countries affairs.

However, when USA started it's war on terrorism in 2001, Koizumi awaked public fears in Japan regarding the 9/11 attack, and got a new legistlation passed on October 29. This legistlation allows Japan's self defence force to be used to provide "logistical support" for US actions against terrorism. Many of Japanese who support 9th article, felt this was a serious damage to Japan's constitution and peace-oriented policy.

4. Iraq

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In 2004, the Japanese government ordered troops to be deployed to Iraq, to supper United States led "Reconstruction of Iraq". Public opinion was sharply cut into two, because this clearly broke the 9th article. The Koizumi administration, however decided to send troops to respond to a request from the U.S.

A special law was made beforehand, in 2003, which allowed dispatch of troops, but forbids them using force and threats, and allows troops to be placed only in non-combat areas. Australian army forces were ordered to protect Japanese GSDF. The GSDF troops were withdrawn in July 2006 and there were no casualties.

During the dispatch, there was a laqsuit filed by about 1,100 people who requested the operation to be halted, claiming it to be unconstitutional. Similar lawsuits came to 11 districts, but all plaintiffs lost the case.

Japanese Soldier with Night Vision Goggles
Japanese Soldier with Night Vision Goggles

The Nagoya High Court's ruling in 2008, however sheds some interesting light into the case, especially related to dispatch of ASDF units to Iraq. The ruling said that although the ASDF's transport mission does not constitute use of force in itself, transport is an important part of combat activities in modern warfare and the ASDF's activities constitute rear logistic support indispensable for the multinational forces' combat activities. The ASDF's act of transporting armed soldiers of the multinational forces to Baghdad, a combat zone, is integral to the use of force by other countries and therefore must be regarded as use of force on the part of the ASDF. It also referred to section 1 of 9th article which says, "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

The conclusion was that ASDF transport mission violate the Koizumi's law clauses prohibiting the use of force and activities in the combat zone.

Koizumi's statements in Diet over the special law have been since further critisized, especially concerning the definition of a combat zone. He said in July 2003, "How can I tell which area is a noncombat zone and which area a combat zone?"

The Ministry of Defense has revealed since then that eight Ground Self-Defense Force members have committed suicide since returning home from Iraq.

5. Japan's defence policy

Japanese Self Defence Force Uniform

The current policty is available in Ministry of Defence's website.

The first basic policy (19578) states: "Support the United Nations’ Activities and promote international cooperation
to achieve world peace"
while second follows "Stabilize the people’s livelihood and establish the foundations for national security".

The other fundamental policies list:

1. Exclusively Defense-Oriented Policy
2. Not Becoming a Military Power Posing a threat to other countries
3. Three Non-Nuclear Principles
(Not possessing nuclear weapons; Not producing nuclear weapons; Not permitting nuclear
weapons to be brought to Japan)
4. Ensuring Civilian Control

USA is suspected to have nuclear weapon in their military bases in Japan, which would be a violation of number three. It is said to be very likely, since the nuclear powered aircraft carrier is based in Yokosuka.

6. Uniform ranks

The uniforms of JSDF branches are similar to United States forces. MSDF members are dressed into traditional blue dress, ASDF wear light blue uniforms, siimlar to United States Air Force. The ground troops wear the camouflage patterns, similar to US army.

The branch insignia is indicated by colors, for infantry, red; artillery, yellow; armor, orange; engineers, violet; ordnance, light green; medical, green; army aviation, light blue; signals, blue; quartermaster, brown; transportation, dark violet; airborne, white; and others, dark blue. The cap of GSDF uniform has a sakura in it.

There are nine officer ranks in SDF, and five NCO ranks and three enlisted ranks.

7. Recruitment

Japanese Cadets
Japanese cadets.
Permission under Public Domain as a work of the employee of
United States Marine Corps.

SDF is an all volunteer force. The SDF members are free to choose by themselves whether to attempt to join the self defence force. Officer candidates are usually students from National Defense Academy and National Defense Medical College.

The recruiters recruit mostly from predominantly rural areas, such as Kyushu or Niigata, where employment opportunities are limited. Recruiters are welcomed and supported by the citizens. Recruitment generally doesn't happen in big cities such as Tokyo, or Osaka and they are not allowed to enter school grounds.

The strategy of recruiters is however questionable. The force sells their image as special public service, instead of army. The recruits are given chance "to fly special planes", not fighter jet. Beautiful women pose in the posters of recruitment posters.

In United States, the army recruits poor or less educated people. In Japan, it seems that people are recruited for somewhat same reason, people from rural areas who have a little or no chance of getting a better job.

JSDF has been critisized for the bad treatment of the members, apparently for a reason. September 2008, a MSDF drop-out died in the traditional "send-off" training session in Hiroshima. This 25 year old was beaten to death on one-on-15 training session.

8. Characters of SDF

9.U.S Forces stationed in Japan

MSDF Kongo Launches SM3 missile
MSDF Vessel Kongo launches SM3 missile

It is impossible to mention Japan Self-Defence Forces without mentioning the 90 US Armed forces bases in Japan. 37 of these are in Okinawa. The public opinion on the US forces in Japan has been split into two. Others feel that Japan needs the support of American military force to protect Japan from the threat of North Korea, while others say that military bases are unnecessary cost and burden for Japan. Almost every year, US Army personnel cause harm or crime against Japanese citizens. These crimes are almost completely dealt in America as the members belong to US army.

10. Public opinion in Japan

Unlike the US forces members, the public reputation of JSDF members is generally good. They are respected by the public because of the important work they do in disaster relief, and by their identity as civil servants. Unlike US army soldiers, JSDF members usually don't wear uniforms outside the military bases.

The JSDF has also participated in public works projects such as annual Antarctic expeditions, or road building. Unlike US Forces, JSDF forces build soundproofing to homes and public buildings, to minimize the harm their activities might cause.

Some, however strongly resist building of new military installations, and the big ships causing accidents to civilians that could be avoided.



i knew there was some rule made after ww11 about offencive weapons and actions the jappanese millitary could do. i am so surprised that that has not been changed,,in todays world there is allways some one ready to stab you in the back for some thing they want. you as a country live in a make beleive world of,,,if i dont hurt any one no one will hurt me,,,,oh if it could be true.it is only a matter of time before your glass house get a rock thrown at it,,,you need to wake up and protect your self aginst the moster that lives next door...n. korea and chine....
united states is becomeing weaker and weaker,,,there military smaller....i know i just retired from it. you can not allways look at the united states as the big protector,,,,some day i fear it will fall in to ruin and will not stand up for any one. it is not a sin to be super strong with a huge millitary and not use it,,,,,it is a sin to stay weak and not protect your people,,thank you
#1 - danny spurgeon - 06/15/2009 - 11:46
Spurgeon, I was an SF Army operator for 15 years. The US military isn't getting weaker, if anything, the one thing GW Bush did right (and I emphasize - the *one* thing he did right) was getting the military into a far better fighting condition after two wars and trillions in spending. Don't tell me the military is getting weaker, I was able to do training and see better troops come through in the last few years before my retirement than when the military's budget was getting cut back under Clinton.
#2 - Sean - 10/28/2009 - 08:04
A few parts of this article make you come off as uninformed. The Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) does not enjoy a good reputation compared to that of U.S. Forces. In the U.S. at least, the military has a good reputation and draws a variety of skilled individuals. JSDF members ("jei tai") in Japan are seen as odd balls, people who could not get a job in the civilian realm so they signed up for an equivalent of civil service. The vast majority of recruits come from less-than well off areas where the local economy isn't so impressive, such as Kyushu and Okinawa.

I'm a Marine stationed in Okinawa, married to a local.

As for the opinion of U.S. forces in Okinawa, there is actually a minority of anti-base members that are very loud that give the impression that most Okinawans are anti-base. However, the majority of them don't really care. The local news has admitted to an anti-base agenda and greatly exaggerates the numbers of people that attend protests (90,000 in Yomitan last year was more around 9 - 10,000 in reality, but 90,000 was touted all over the world).
#3 - Gregory - 01/24/2011 - 18:04
I am half Japanese, military brat, and retired USAF Special Ops, and 100% disabled vet.
That said, I got this:
This is the 21st century and times are changing for both the US forces in Japan, and Japanese military.
I believe that in time, the US may withdraw some bases, but they are too important to totally give up.
We didn't dominate occupied areas like the Communist Russians/Chinese. (Now, they both look at Latin Americas, Mideasts, etc). In return, our former enemies prospered under our mentorship. We declined, not due to economics but leadership.
My point is that many connections will remain due to the intermarriage (some lasting, some failed) between Americans and Japanese.
That connection will mean that our two countries are forever allied.
I grew up in 60s/70s Japan and it was a great time.
The fact that mainly young, drunk, stupid, inexperienced Marines and Army members are conducting themselves as criminals shouldn't be seen as bridge blowers.
They were problems before service time and got caught.
Like many of us who served there and married there, we may never be considered Japanese, but we are forever touched by the beauty, culture, and people.
If N Korea or other country should ever attack Japan, there will be retribution from sources they never knew existed.
#4 - jim - 02/13/2011 - 16:04
this was a very interesting and informative article, thank you very much for sharing your knowledge on the subject.
#5 - daniel bush - 01/08/2012 - 00:48
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