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New national security laws cast shadow on SDF recruitment efforts

Tomio Nakayama, a volunteer SDF recruiter, talks with a high school student in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in 2015. (Mainichi)

With the March 29 enforcement of new national security laws allowing Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to strike back at a force that attacks a Japanese ally and the addition of new duties such as guarding other nation's peacekeeping forces or rescuing Japanese nationals abroad, one volunteer SDF recruiter explains how he is facing new challenges in attracting personnel.

Tomio Nakayama, 67, is a municipal assembly member of the city of Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, and a volunteer SDF recruiter. Last summer, when the mother of a high school student he was trying to recruit asked him, "What will you do if there is a war? Can you take responsibility?" he was at a loss for words.

Volunteer SDF recruiters like Nakayama are unpaid and work with the SDF's provincial cooperation offices (PCOs). Nakayama has done this work since 2000, and goes to visit the homes of young men in their late teens to early 20s who may be eligible to join the SDF. Last year he individually met with over 30 potential recruits.

A long-time Liberal Democratic Party supporter, Nakayama became a recruiter because he believes the SDF is necessary for national defense. He does not mind that he is not paid, and he supports Japan's exercising of the right to collective self-defense. He worries, however, whether Japan can maintain the SDF.

In July last year, the head of the Tochigi PCO came to Ashikaga, said that applications were down to a little less than half of what they had been the previous year, and asked for stepped up recruitment efforts. Nakayama had never received this kind of visit before.

The PCO explained the drop in applications as due to an improved economy, but Nakayama feels differently.

"When I try to recruit, I definitely have more parents now who ask whether it's safe. There is influence from the (new) security laws. People like me who are directly involved (with recruitment) know," Nakayama says. In the past he could say, "Even if your son enters the SDF he won't be involved in a war, because we have Article 9 (of the Constitution, which renounces war)," but he feels people are no longer convinced by this.

Now, when Nakayama is asked about the possibility of the SDF using force, he thoroughly explains the actions of China and North Korea, argues that the new security laws are necessary as a deterrence, and emphasizes there will not be a war.

In April 2014 there was a forest fire in Ashikaga, and Nakayama was reassured by the SDF's response then. He says, "The SDF is a necessary organization. It is also great that it is voluntary. This is why I am worried that people are starting to reject it."

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