A bigger obstacle to the project is public opinion at home.
Kirk Spitzer, a journalist specializing in military matters, says “the majority of Japanese still have a lot of qualms about having a real military service.”
But, he adds, “I do think that Japanese people are becoming a little bit more used to [the idea] than in previous years.”
A ‘NEW STAGE’
A tense stand-off over disputed islands in the East China Sea is greasing the wheels for Abe, who has decreed the military budget for this financial year, which started April 1, is going up.
Saeki, a former Lieutenant General in the ground force, says the military feels that it needs to be prepared for all scenarios.
Under the US-Japan security alliance “there has been an implicit assumption that the US is the pike and Japan the shield,” he said.
“People’s mindset is now changing... We are undoubtedly in a new stage.”
Spitzer says that even with the shifting international sands, the armed forces themselves seem unsure of where they fit in.
He points out the differences between Japan and the US, for example, where it is not uncommon to see military men and women.
In Japan, generals commute to their headquarters in civilian clothes and change into uniforms when they get there, he says.
It is an organization that is “torn about what direction they want to go,” he said.
“The Japanese military themselves are wondering if they should begin to become more of a military organization than they have been in recent years.”
Japan hopes that its military becomes respectable as a career choice to help with the recruitment of educated and dedicated soldiers, sailors and airmen — no mean feat in a rapidly-aging society.
And it is perhaps this more than anything else, suggests Spitzer, that explains the PR campaign of musicians and popularity contests.
It helps to “create the idea that people in the military are normal people or everyday people — they are not some group of killers.”