Japan Self-Defense Force uses anime, technology to draw more recruits

Japan Self-Defense Force uses anime, technology to draw more recruits
by John Grisafi
The Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) has been making efforts to bring up recruitment numbers through use of popular culture, especially anime and modern technology.

During the past 20-plus years, Japan has experienced a sharp decline in the birth rate and, consequently, an aging population. Japan’s declining birthrate has recently led to a shortage of young men and women willing and able to serve in the JSDF.

In response, the JSDF has stepped up and become more creative in its efforts at recruiting. Several of these campaigns have made use of moe-style female anime characters while others have been based on modern mobile devices.

One strategy has been for the JSDF offices in several prefectures to design sets of female anime characters for use in ads, posters, calendars, handouts, cardboard cutouts, etc. They are typically a set of three, with one to represent each branch of the JSDF – ground, maritime, and air.

In another case, the JSDF has been able to piggy-back off of the popularity of an anime series, Girls und Panzer, about high school girls who are studying “the way of the tank.” The anime is credited with causing a record number of applicants – over 100,000 – to come and observe the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s annual Fuji Comprehensive Steam-Powered Exercise in August of last year. The exercise – Japan’s largest that involves firing of live ammunition – has been conducted at the East Fuji Maneuvering Grounds in Shizuoka Prefecture every year since 1961 and typically features tanks and other ground vehicles as well as military aircraft such as fighter jets.
But the JSDF hasn’t just been passive about exploiting this anime-triggered interest in the military. In May of 2013, the JGSDF released an educational DVD about its tanks titled I know this! The Ground Self-Defense Forces: Kong of Worth! The Tank’s History of Protecting Japan, which topped the Oricon sales charts.

Anime is not the Japan’s only recruiting tool based on popular culture, however.  Earlier this year, the JSDF released a smart phone app called Kimi ni Eeru AR (Your AR Cheerleading Shout). The app allows users to take a selfie and use it to make a cute military avatar of themselves by selecting gender, JSDF branch, uniform style, etc. Users can then get “augmented reality cards” (or AR cards) downloaded from the JSDF website to make their avatars perform various actions, such as dancing, marching, etc.

All of this effort seems to have paid off. As of January, the JSDF offices of the Okayama Prefecture were reporting a 20 percent increase in volunteers for the JSDF and the National Defense Academy. The JSDF partially credited this increased interest to its anime-based recruiting campaigns.