A proposal was presented in Parliament to make a military career more attractive to young people. The stigma that associates tattoos with organized crime still prevails in the country, but 60% of Japanese 20-year-olds believe the rules should change. The demographic crisis is one of the obstacles to increasing the number of soldiers as Kishida proposes.
Tokyo (). Japan is considering lifting a ban on young tattooed men and women joining the military. The proposal was raised during a recent meeting of the Foreign Relations and Defense Committee of the House of Councilors. The aim of the measure is to facilitate recruitment and address the severe shortage of personnel in the Japanese Armed Forces (SDF).
Although they stopped being illegal after World War II, tattoos in Japan are still socially frowned upon -especially by the older generation- due to their relationship with criminal organizations. Precisely because of the stigma attached to crime, tattooed people in Japan face various difficulties, from not being able to use public swimming pools or hot springs to the risk of not being able to access careers in the public sector. However, the perception of tattoos is slowly changing in the younger generation. A poll by Haruka Sakaguchi for the New York Times shows that in 2021 more than a million Japanese had tattoos, double the number in 2014, and more than 60% of Japanese 20-year-olds believe the rules on tattoos should change.
However, these rules are still very relevant for recruitment in the SDF, where candidates with tattoos are nevertheless rejected. The issue was raised by Masahisa Sato, a Liberal Democratic Party politician and former member of the Defense Forces Ground Forces. The Japan Times reported that Sato said in a speech that turning down candidates just because they have tattoos weakens the SDF because it undermines its recruiting ability.
Defense is one of the key issues of the Kishida administration, which has promised to increase military spending to 2% of national GDP by 2027, marking a significant departure from Japan’s pacifist stance since the second postwar Despite the new policies and increased spending, the most significant obstacles to improving the Japanese defense remain those related to conscription.
The current goal is to equip the SDF with 247,154 troops, totaling at least 16,000 recruits. One of the problems that arise is the demographic crisis. Recruitment is generally done among the 18-26 year old population, which has gone from 17 million in 1994 to only 10.5 million in 2021.
The other big problem is the negative perception of the military career since, added to the better salary conditions in the private sector, in the military there are also greater risks of bullying and sexual harassment. Japan’s low youth unemployment rate also allows younger generations to be more selective in their careers, further contributing to recruitment difficulties. The Japanese SDF are volunteer forces that, unlike other countries such as South Korea or Taiwan, cannot count on a national recruitment system that guarantees them the necessary reservists to deal with the shortage of troops.
This whole situation comes against the backdrop of a significant deterioration in regional dynamics in Northeast Asia, from North Korea’s increasingly ambitious weapons tests to the tense atmosphere in the Taiwan Strait, with China increasingly more aggressive. The voluntary nature of the Self-Defense Forces makes it imperative that Japan take steps to improve its image and, consequently, how it is perceived by the recruiting age group. This has so far been done through intensive marketing campaigns, drawing on the vast Japanese popular culture and the promise of measures such as salary increases or initiatives to facilitate work-life balance.
Although removing the rule on tattoos may seem insignificant given the small percentage of tattooed youth, it could nonetheless help to reduce the negative image of the SDF as a labor sector, showing it as a body willing to abandon rules that are outdated for segments of the workforce. younger population and demonstrating that the sector is more prepared to adapt to changes in the social dynamics of Japan.