Mai Fuchigami might seem an odd choice to feature on the cover of a military magazine. She has never served in the armed forces and looks like a typical youthful Japanese girl, all smiles and peace signs. But there she is on the cover of the December issue of Mamoru, the Japanese Defense Ministry’s official magazine, which, according to Reuters, has taken to featuring popular female models and articles on dating and relationships.Japan’s military has grown more popular over the past few years than it has been in almost all of Japan’s post-war history. “A decade ago,” Reuters reports, “around 1 in 10 candidates [for enlistment] said they wanted to be a soldier for love of country. These days it’s closer to 1 in 3….[A] government survey in 2012 found that 91.7 percent of respondents expressed a favorable opinion of the military, the highest level since the survey began in 1969.”Much of the increasing adoration of the military is driven by pop culture. Japanese soldiers appear romantic, strong and appealing in anime shows like Girls und Panzer, in which Fuchigami voices one of the lead characters, and films like Eien no Zero (“The Eternal Zero”), which glorifies kamikaze pilots. One show featured attractive members of the Japanese navy heroically fulfilling their daily duties while viewers voted for their favorites. Girls und Panzer has proven to be particularly popular. Thanks in part to the show, a record 110,000 civilians applied for a limited number of seats to watch the military’s annual live exercises. Action figures based on the show’s characters are selling like hotcakes, and military recruitment posters feature images in the show’s signature style.The rise in the military’s popularity coincides with some unfortunately insensitive statements by some of Japan’s leaders regarding its wartime history. Naoki Hyakuta wrote the book upon which “The Eternal Zero” is based, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed him to the board of governors of the national broadcasting company. He gave a rousing speech in support of a fringe right-wing candidate for Tokyo Governor in which he declared that the Nanjing Massacre “never happened.” “The Eternal Zero” reportedly brought Abe to tears.Abe has been trying to gather support for his mission to change the country’s constitution to permit a more flexible and active role for the military. Despite the rising popularity of the military and all the swooning pop culture surrounding it, that mission is still uncertain. Abe faced opposition this week from his own party, with one lawmaker calling his plans “outrageous.” According to the WSJ, only 17 percent of Japanese citizens support the constitutional changes Abe is seeking.
Game of Thrones: Anime EditionTank Girls, Sexy Sailors, and the Rising Popularity of Japan's Military