The modern Japanese armed forces are technically not a military: they're the "Self-Defense Force", hence the abbreviation "JSDF" (Japan Self-Defense Force). Also known as the Jieitai (自衛隊), it is split into three branches: Ground, Maritime, and Air.
According to The Other Wiki, the JSDF's main policies are:
- Maintaining an exclusively defense-oriented policy.
- To avoid becoming a major military power that might pose a threat to the world.
- Refraining from the development of nuclear weapons, and to refuse to allow nuclear weapons inside Japanese territory.
- Ensuring civilian control.
- Maintaining security arrangements with the United States and its allies.
- Building up defensive capabilities within moderate limits.
Much of these policies arose from the aftermath of World War II and Imperial Japan, especially the rampant abuses and societal domination of the Imperial Armed Forces. The nuclear weapon policy in particular is a reaction to the fact that Japan is the only nation to have ever been attacked with nuclear weapons. The JSDF is never officially referred to as a "military", "army", "air force", "navy", "sentai" or any other similar term. The JSDF was originally a police force (hence being officially non-military) known as the National Police Reserve, shortly afterward expanded and renamed the National Safety Force. When it became the JSDF in 1954, the police function was dropped entirely in favor of a total emphasis on defending Japan from invasion (at the time assumed to be from the Soviet Union).
Despite the focus on "self-defense", the JSDF has participated in the second Iraq war and in UN Peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, East Timor, Mozambique and Golan Heights as the LDP leans more and more to the right and starts developing a tendency for historical revisionism... well, maybe. It is certainly true that the Japanese have been struggling over the use of the SDF in "peacekeeping" roles, as the laws governing "self-defense" never really went into being the third party. It should be noted that many of the restrictions on the JSDF are based on interpretation of what constitutes an offensive force or weapon, so in theory it would be easy for the government to change those interpretations. As of 2021, the Diet has approved new security legislation that passed, allowing the JSDF to participate in peacekeeping ops thare are not necessarily under the UN. For starters, two JGSDF officers have participated in the MFO as liaison officers and were allowed by Tokyo to be armed.
Contrary to both the title of this article and what you see in anime and Sci Fi movies, Japan doesn't develop advanced weapons technology (primarily relying on the US for weapons) and is not Crazy-Prepared for an attack by Godzilla or any other large monster. It does, however, develop many of its own armaments, including the Type 90 Kyu-maru MBT and Howa Type 89 Assault Rifle.
On the other hand, the Maritime branch is quite large, with lots and lots of destroyers, some more advanced modifications of the AEGIS-capable US Arleigh Burke-class. Japan has begun construction of helicopter carriers, but is not allowed to have actual aircraft carriers due to the self-defense laws. Their way around that is to simply designate the carriers as destroyersnote . Construction has even recently begun on a pair of "destroyers" that are similar in size to World War II aircraft carriers. Furthermore, unlike the Ground SDF, which conscientiously distances itself from its World War 2 era predecessor, the Maritime SDF retains a large number of traditions from the Imperial Navy, including its conspicuous war flagnote , which gives an appearance of a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, especially from the perspective of Japan's neighbors. Maritime SDF ships also are invariably named after famous IJN warships, though differentiated by the names always being written in hiragana rather than kanji. Japan's defense budget is the fifth-largest in the world, and it has "breakout capacity"—i.e. it could start building nuclear weapons at a moment's notice and have results within mere months if it wanted to.note
Japan is currently looking for some new fighter jets. It wants the F-22 ultimately, (good luck with that, as the US has made it clear that nobody gets F-22 exports) but is currently evaluating some of the 4.5 generation fighters and ultimately are buying a small number of F-35s. In light of the continued refusal of the US to allow F-22 exports, Japan decided to make their own twin-engine 5th generation stealth fighter), with the experimental Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin as a testbed as well as collaborations with foreign companies.note
And speaking of exports, Japanese-designed weapons such as tanks and aircraft (and even the JSDF's small arms) were for the longest time never meant to be for export because of the "Three Principles on Arms Exports", which doesn't allow any of them to be exported. However on April 1, 2014, the restrictions were changed under Abe's government with the "Three Principles on Arms Exports to Three Principles on Defense Equipment Transfers" enacted, in part due to the necessity of having Patriot missiles in Japan to defend itself from (mainly) North Korean ballistic missiles. These restrictions have now been done away with as of mid-2014 under the Abe administration, with Australia now looking to purchase Soryu-class attack submarines from Japan, the first Japanese arms sale to be done in decades. The deal ultimately fell apart, and Australia decided to buy its submarines from France instead. Japan had to wait six years before landing its first modern defense export, when it sold a bunch of radars to the Philippines.
Japan clearly intends to become a major player in the global arms trade (a market Japanese arms makers had long been restricted from joining), starting with making its first appearance at the UK International Air Tattoo marketing its Kawasaki P-1 ASW (anti-submarine warfare) plane. In July 2015, the lower house of the Japanese parliament approved legislation that would allow JSDF forces to engage in military operations outside of Japan for the first time since the Second World War. Currently, however, they are facing difficulties due to their inexperience marketing outside of their domestic market, as well as the fact that many countries are hesitant to use weapons systems that have not been battle-tested in large-scale conflicts.
The Servicemen and Servicewomen
As the average age of the Japanese population continues to rise, the JSDF is facing problems finding the men and women to fill its ranks. According to page 20 of this book from 2017, the JSDF could only muster 75 percent of its total allowed enlisted personnel, which makes it somewhat top-heavy. In late 2018, the maximum age for new enlisted personnel was raised from 26 to 32, and for some difficult-to-retain positions the limits are even higher (such as 36 for nurses and as high as 45 for JASDF technical officers) or do not exist (for dentists and doctors).
The history of women in the JSDF began as nursing staff in 1952. In 1968 the JGSDF allowed women in support roles, and the JASDF and JMSDF followed suit in 1974. Most non-combat roles were opened to women in 1986 (JGSDF) and 1993 (JASDF and JMSDF), and the National Defense Academy began admitting women in 1992. During the 2010's all three branches removed all restrictions for women in combat roles, the only exception being JMSDF's submarine service, which remains male-only. In late 2016, slightly over six percent of all JSDF members were women. The JMSDF is seen as the most female-friendly branch of the three, and saw its first female flag officer with the promotion of Rear Admiral Natsue Kondo in 2016.note
Ground ForcesThe Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF), de facto successor to the Imperial Armynote , is today organized into a 150,000 strong army organized into 5 armies split into 8 divisions and 7 brigades (one amphibious). The independent Ground Component Command which reports to the Ground Staff is of division size and can command any of the armies mentioned when the need arises.
- Northern Army
- 2nd and 7th Divisions
- 1st, 5th and 11th Artillery Brigades
- Northeastern Army
- 6th and 9th Divisions
- 2nd Engineer Brigade
- Central Army
- 3rd and 10th Divisions
- 4th, 13th and 14th Engineer Brigades
- Eastern Army
- 1st Division
- 1st and 11th Engineer Brigades
- Western Army
- 4th and 8th Divisions
- 2nd and 15th Air Defense Artillery Brigades
- Amphibious Brigade
- Ground Component Command
- 1st Airborne Brigade
- 1st Helicopter Brigade
- Special Forces Group
- International Peace Cooperation Activities Training Unit (under HQ)
Maritime ForcesThe Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), earlier stated as successor to the heritage of the former Imperial Navy, is today organized as an estimated 51,000-strong navy with 126 vessels and 328 aircraft in the Fleet Air Force, plus 5 naval districts. Its surface fleet forces are partially organized into a modern form of the old IJN fleet formations, but with an aviation element(8 destroyers and 8 on-board helicopters). Unlike the old IJN, it does not have a marine unit.
The JSDF in fiction:
- Kaiju Girl Caramelise: Whenever Kuroe Akaishi transforms into Harugon, JSDF helicopters always show up to fire upon her.
- In Patlabor, the JSDF has the best Humongous Mecha in the country and occasionally cooperate with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Captain Fuwa of the JSDF is also a high school friend of police Captain Nagumo, who sometimes calls out favors from her.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the JSDF frequently deliver The Worf Barrage to the Monster of the Week. In End of Evangelion, they systematically shoot everyone. Even people attempting to surrender. Or—rather, especially—children. Given that the JSSDF has extensive first-hand experience on exactly how futile fighting something that possesses an AT-Field can be, they're quite justified in their strategy of "Kill the pilots". The fact that they fail to kill Shinji and Asuka leads to their deaths. Justifiable given the circumstances at the time. The Japanese government had just learned that they were sandwiched between an Omniscient Council of Vagueness that wanted to "evolve" humanity by killing them all and a manipulator who wanted the same thing so his soul could rejoin his deceased wife. With the promise of The End of the World as We Know It, no idea when it was actually going to happen, the immediate threat of the Angels gone, and no idea just how many people were complicit in the plot, the JSSDF's only real practical option was to sterilize everyone and everything as quickly as possible. They also gain an extra 'S' in their acronym (becoming the JSSDF), for the "Japanese Strategic Self Defense Force", which might indicate a move to a full military post-Second Impact. It should perhaps be noted that NERV, the organization the main characters work for, is not part of the JSSDF. It is instead a branch of a global organization that is technically UN-affiliated.
- Space Battleship Yamato, among other series, combines this with Japan Is The Center Of Earth with the Earth Defense Force, with implications that Earth has become as Technically Pacifist as modern Japan.
- Digimon Tamers has the JSDF attempt to engage hostile digimon and the D-Reaper, but they're largely mere annoyances to the ridiculously powerful monsters.
- In Zipang, a modern JMSDF Aegis destroyer named the JDS Mirai travels back in time to the Battle of Midway. The Mirai is equipped with Tomahawk missiles, implying that the future Japan had at least slightly loosened its definition of "offensive weaponry." Notwithstanding the armaments, the crew of the Mirai are thoroughly indoctrinated with the ethos of the postwar SDF and are reluctant to cast their lot with the World War II era Japanese, who, in turn, are both suspicious and fearful of them. The key theme of both the manga and the anime (although not as developed in the latter) is how the postwar Japanese onboard the Mirai are forced to approach, if not necessarily cross, the Moral Event Horizon.
- Anti-Villain Dragon of Earth Kusanagi Shiyuu is a member.
- 801 T.T.S. Airbats focuses on an all-female stunt flying squadron in the JASDF.
- The JSDF or their counterparts appear in Gundam twice:
- In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Major Ulube Ishikawa tries to fight off the Devil Gundam with their mobile suits but failed. Sure, Japan now became Neo Japan, but it is possible that the Neo Japanese military is the future SDF.
- The JSDF is mentioned once in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 as being asked by the US military which is the main part of the Union to join the exercise with the Human Reform League and the Advanced European Union. Later in The Movie, one of the Solbraves squadron was a Japanese Brave pilot named Akira Takei, which implies he used to be a member of the JSDF.
- The primary goal of Nagisa Yamada, a junior high school student and protagonist of the manga Satou Kashi no Dangan wa Uchinukenai (A Lollipop Or A Bullet), is to join the SDF after she graduates, mostly to escape the dull existence of living in a small mountain town.
- They appear many times in Ghost in the Shell. Note that they are officially called a Self-Defense "Army"
- In Gasaraki, the Gowa family is developing a secret weapon system for the JSDF, but there is also realistic debate within the government about the JSDF sending troops to help the U.S. in a Gulf War style conflict (The Gowa family engineered this, allegedly to help test the mecha, but even that is just a cover-up for their real goal, investigating a strange occurrence where the war is taking place).
- In Yomigaeru Sora — Rescue Wings, the main character is assigned to a JSDF Air Rescue squadron at Komatsu, where he learns the ins and outs of becoming a SAR pilot.
- In Un-Go, the JSDF operates a militia-type, paramilitary law enforcement unit called the Public Security Force (or known by its abbreviation, PSC), a former unit owned by a PMC company in Episode 0.. Likewise, the JSDF has an anti-riot/guerrilla/insurgency office called the Insurrection Countermeasures Office. Makiro Serada use to be a JGSDF officer before he relocated to Southeast Asia and be a tourist guide there. Of course, an extremist faction in the JGSDF and in the government ordered him to do this in order to allow the Constitution to be revised and allow JSDF forces to be deployed out of the country after he knows that fellow Japanese were in harm's way, putting any legal challenges to Article 9 as a check and balance against such a move to non-existence.
- Kamichu!. The Ground Self Defense Force has a minor antagonistic role in one episode (the real bad guy is the sleazy Prime Minister).
- One of the antagonist factions in Jormungand is the Special Research team, which is comprised of JGSDF personnel. They are "officially" under the control of the Defense Intelligence Headquarters, which is the Japanese signals intelligence agency, but at this point they're practically a law unto themselves.
- Two JASDF F-15 fighters show up in Fate/Zero to investigate on the disturbance in Fuyuki City. One is downed by the monster, while the other is hijacked by Berserker and used to fight Cthulhu and attack Saber before Lancer shoots it down.
- Though only a bit role in the series, the JSDF weapons, including rocket artillery and antiship missiles, are stolen by Homura Akemi in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
- A JASDF fighter catches Rei & Takashi on its cameras while doing a recon flight in Highschool of the Dead. JGSDF forces are also seen securing power plants and setting up blockades to hold off the zombies. The final episode shows a JMSDF destroyer group shooting down 3 out of 4 nuclear missiles that have been launched in a panic thanks to the Zombie Apocalypse (the fourth missile was supposed to be taken out by an American ship, but the ship got zombified). Later, they also rescue a few survivors from a zombie-infested mall.
- JASDF fighters are scrambled in the final episode of Terror in Resonance to look for the nuclear bomb Nine has deployed with a hot air balloon over Tokyo. They don't find it in time and are forced to land before it detonates.
- The Japanese Liberation Front, or JLF, in Code Geass is the remains of the JSDF. We see a few shots of the JSDF getting annihilated during the Brittanian invasion at the beginning of the series.
- Instructor Ami Chouno from Girls und Panzer is an officer in the JGSDF, and makes her appearance aboard a LAPES-dropped Type 10 MBT.
- JSDF forces have been secretly tracking the fictional characters materializing into the real world in Re:CREATORS, but it takes a Humongous Mecha appearing for them to take overt action against them.
- The JSDF plays a major role in The Silent Service. JMSDF vessels protect the submarine Yamato by shooting down Soviet and American antisubmarine missiles. MSDF Captain Fukamachi searches for Yamato in a diesel-electric submarine. Later in the story, Prime Minister Takegami uniliterally cedes the JSDF to United Nations control.
- Sword Art Online:
- The JSDF starts playing a major role in the Project Alicization arc. It turns out that Kikuoka and Nurse Aki are a Ground Self-Defense Force Lieutenant Colonel and Sergeant, respectively, and they are part of a project to develop A.I.s for warfighting use.
- In Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online, one of the teams participating in the first Squad Jam tournament is a JASDF base security force who are evaluating the Gun Gale Online game for its potential as a training tool. The light novel reveals they report directly to Lt. Colonel Kikuoka as part of his work in researching combat applications of VRMMO technologies.
- The JSDF in Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka has a magical warfare division to handle magical threats, with two of the five magical girls of the series Asuka & Kurumi being part of it.
- The JASDF takes center stage in Girly Air Force being at the forefront of the war against the Zai.
- Psycho-Pass: Sinners of the System Case 2 - First Guardian deals heavily with the Japanese Defense Forces. Being set in 2112, the "Self" part of the name has been dropped, and it becomes clear why since the Japanese government actively sends soldiers abroad and exports weapons to fulfill national security objectives. The Status of Forces Agreement with the United States has also ended, as the air base that Sugou Teppei is based out of is Nago Base, which is explicitly stated to be the former Camp Schwab on Okinawa (in the present day real world, Camp Schwab is a U.S. Marine Corps base).
- In Bokurano, the Self-Defense Forces plays various roles in the series, from deploying to fight Kako and Chizu's opponent (and getting curb-stomped in the process) to trying to understand how Zearth works. Surprisingly enough, in the manga, they actually have some nuclear weapons that they stole from the Americans, and which they try to use to defeat Javelin.
- In the beginning of Kageki Shoujo!!, an old JSDF officer is present at the academy's opening ceremony to evaluate the new students and see how well they synchronize and respond to sudden orders. He jokingly tries to recruit Sarasa for the JGSDF due to how tall she is at only 15 years old.
- They appear at the end of the Mad Gear Arc in The Newest Challenger to arrest the remaining Mooks.
- Godzilla and every other monster movie set in (postwar) Japan, logically.
- JMSDF warships and their crews made an appearance in Battleship.
- Pacific Rim has a literal example of a Kaiju Defense Force with a Japanese giant robot (Coyote Tango) fighting Kaiju. On the streets of Tokyo, no less.
- The movie S: The Last Policeman - Recovery of our Future (which is a sequel to the TV drama S: The Last Policeman which in turn was originally a manga) features the Air Self-Defense Force providing helicopter transport to various police special forces groups.
- The JASDF briefly appears in Independence Day, receiving the American's message advising of the upcoming global counterattack.
- Sora e-Sukui No Tsubasa RESCUE WINGS- is a live-action version of Rescue Wings, taken from Yomigaeru Sora — Rescue Wings and the Rescue Wings Zero manga.
- The 1978 film August Without Emperor has the JSDF plot a military coup against the civilian government.
- The JMSDF and the JASDF heavily in Debt of Honor where they unknowingly serve as The Dragon to China, ironically.
- In Axis of Time, another JMSDF missile destroyer is among the multinational fleet from 2020 that ends up transported in time back to the Battle of Midway. Disgusted at not being trusted by the 1940s Americans, and reluctant to possibly kill their own grandparents, most of the crew elects to declare neutrality and become civilians in California, and the ship ends up fighting the Imperial Japanese Navy with a mostly American crew. It's also the first ship the Midway fleet encounters while the crew are still recovering from the time-travel, initially making for quite an unfortunate misunderstanding between the two fleets.
- Gate has the JSDF appear as protagonists, fighting a fantasy world horde emerging from a portal opening in Ginza. It turns out that modern weapons can easily annihilate an army equipped with medieval weapons, even if they have wyverns and orcs. Several months later, the JSDF counter invades through the gate and establishes a Forward Operating Base, kicking off the story proper.
- In Sentou Yousei Yukikaze, the JSDF is no longer "self-defensive"; not only do they maintain an aircraft carrier (named Admiral 56 in reference to the legendary Isoroku Yamamoto), they are explicitly referred to as the Japanese Navy. Probably because if there was ever a good reason to repeal Article 9, an Alien Invasion would be one.
- In Run with the Wind, the qualifying run for the Hakone Ekiden marathon begins on an empty airstrip at a JSDF base.
- In the Ultra Series, especially in the Showa ones, the JSDF usually aid the defense teams and Ultramen, only to prove just as useless as in the franchise's sister, the Godzilla series. In Ultraman Cosmos however, they're replaced with the fictional JADF (or SHARKS in the first movie). Befitting the series' pacifistic themes, they're an absolutely awful combination of Armies Are Useless and Armies Are Evil.
- The members of Dengeki Sentai Changeman are part of a global JSDF-like organization, the EDF (Earth Defense Force) created in preparation for an alien invasion.
- The main character of Crisis (2017), Akira Inami, is a former member of the JGSDF's Special Forces Group who left the service after being ordered to commit a political murder and carrying it out. Yuki Tadashi is a fellow commando who participated in a black op to investigate a bombing that involved the death of his fiancee, which made him turn into a terrorist.
- In one ending of Drakengard, you end up being shot down by a JSDF fighter jet.
- Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory has Japan forming a new branch of the JSDF: the Information Self-Defense Forces. Their role is signal intelligence and electronic warfare, having the potential to remotely shutdown attacking forces, even to the point of disrupting their own national power grids. As this could potentially be used offensively to strike well outside of Japan's borders (while not actually leaving it) this falls into a grey area of the post-war constitutional restrictions. Predictably, this has the effect of raising international tensions in east Asia, particularly with China and both North and South Korea. It is this international scenario which kicks off the plot in typical Tom Clancy style. Oh, and they're the Bad Guys.
- Front Mission 3, set in 2112, features the JSDF rather prominently. They're quickly overshadowed by the Big Bads, but when you face off against them, they're surprisingly competent. It's just the "JDF" by then. And they managed to steal a Weapon of Mass Destruction from a top-secret lab that was being guarded by a mecha expy of Delta Force (though to be fair, Barghest was distracted by over two hundred terrorist wanzers attacking them).
- Earth Defense Force 2017
- The Operation Flashpoint mod Battle over Hokkaido adds the JSDF in both Cold War and modern flavors against the Soviet Union.
- In Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, the SDF locks down the entire Tokyo area to prevent demons from leaking out into the rest of the word, and stands ready to issue an electronic command to all electric devices in the city to microwave everyone in the area to do so.
- In Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Counter-Demon Force is a long-destroyed example of this. They commanded the National Defense Divinities, a group of powerful, patriotic gods, but their power was barely enough to save Tokyo from nuclear holocaust. Ultimately the organization broke, and most of the Divinities were reforged into minions for Tayama's Ashura-Kai. The JGSDF's Camp Ichigaya base is a recurring locale across the three Alternate Dimensions visited in the game, and several JSDF bases (Camp Meguro, Jujo Base) are visited and raided in search for weaponry and supplies. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police building in Kasumigaseki is also visited as the abandoned base of the Counter-Demon Force.
- Ace Combat: Joint Assault, being one of the few games in the franchise to actually take place in real world setting, features branches of JSDF in missions that take place in/near Japan. A similar mission occurs in Ace Combat Infinity.
- Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown released a Japan Air Self-Defense Force DLC in August 2021, adding JASDF skins to celebrate the franchise's 25th anniversary.
- Much like the Ace Combat example above, a mission in H.A.W.X. where you unexpectedly switch player characters for one mission takes place in Tokyo Harbor where the JSDF assists you in fending off an Artemis attack.
- The JSDF is one of new Asian factions introduced in Wargame: Red Dragon for the NATO/BLUFOR side. And together with South Koreans with Marines they form Blue Dragon coalition forces.
- In World War Z (2019), the JSDF are present in the Japan chapter protecting the harbor and evacuation ship from attack. They are the only national armed force present in significant numbers in the whole game.
- The "Justice and Judgement" segment of Lethal Enforcers 3 has you in the shoes of a JGSDF soldier on a mission to stop terrorists at a nuclear power plant. In the final mission of the game, "Lethal Enforcers 3", you face off against rogue JGSDF soldiers attempting a coup d'etat on the National Diet Building.
- In World War 3, the JSDF faction are to be implemented in Operation Sunstorm as new operator blueprints. In addition, the same DLC would also feature indigenous Japanese weapons and vehicles such as Type 89 assault rifle and Type 10 main battle tank, as well new maps set within war-torn Tokyo.
- Tokyo Xanadu: Being in an Urban Fantasy alternate version of Japan heavily inspired by the Trails Series, the occupation of Japan is referenced extensively in the world building, and their version of the JDSF has Mini-Mecha and nuclear weapons.
- A rather bizarre version (that sets up its own kaiju related disasters in advance; having an unscheduled kaiju attack is a grievous offense) appears in Megatokyo. Odd for this trope is that they are the police, not the JSDF. (Tokyo Police Department, Cataclysm Division)
- The SCP Foundation article for SCP-4182 reveals that SCP-4182 is an island in Japan with an exclusion zone maintained by the JMSDF in cooperation with the Foundation.