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Recruitment and Conditions of Service

The total strength of the three branches of the SDF was 246,400 in 1992. In addition, the SDF maintained a total of 48,400 reservists attached to the three services. Even when Japan's active and reserve components are combined, however, the country maintains a lower ratio of military personnel to its population than does any member nation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Of the major Asian nations, only India and Indonesia keep a lower ratio of personnel in arms.

The SDF is an all-volunteer force. Conscription per se is not forbidden by law, but many citizens consider Article 18 of the constitution, which proscribes involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime, as a legal prohibition of any form of conscription. Even in the absence of so strict an interpretation, however, a military draft appears politically impossible.

SDF uniformed personnel are recruited as private, E-1, seaman recruit, and airman basic for a fixed term. Ground forces recruits normally enlist for two years; those seeking training in technical specialties enlist for three. Naval and air recruits normally enlist for three years. Officer candidates, students in the National Defense Academy and National Defense Medical College, and candidate enlist students in technical schools are enrolled for an indefinite period. The National Defense Academy and enlisted technical schools usually require an enrollment of four years, and the National Defense Medical College require six years.

When the SDF was originally formed, women were recruited exclusively for the nursing services. Opportunities were expanded somewhat when women were permitted to join the GSDF communication service in 1967 and the MSDF and ASDF communication services in 1974. By 1991 more than 6,000 women were in the SDF, about 80 percent of service areas, except those requiring direct exposure to combat, were open to them. The National Defense Medical College graduated its first class with women in March 1991, and the National Defense Academy began admitting women in FY 1992.

In the face of some continued post-World War II public apathy or antipathy toward the armed services, the SDF has difficulties in recruiting personnel. The SDF has to compete for qualified personnel with well-paying industries, and most enlistees are "persuaded" volunteers who sign up after solicitation from recruiters. Predominantly rural prefectures supply military enlistees far beyond the proportions of their populations. In areas such as southern Kyushu and Hokkaido, where employment opportunities are limited, recruiters are welcomed and supported by the citizens. In contrast, little success or cooperation is encountered in urban centers such as Tokyo and Osaka.

Because the forces are all volunteer and legally civilian, members can resign at any time, and retention is a problem. Many enlistees are lured away by the prospects of highly paying civilian jobs, and Defense Agency officials complain of private industries looting their personnel. The agency attempts to stop these practices by threats of sanctions for offending firms that hold defense contracts and by private agreements with major industrial firms. Given the nation's labor shortage, however, the problem is likely to continue.

Some older officers consider the members of the modern forces unequal to personnel of the former Imperial Army and Imperial Navy, but the SDF are generally regarded as professional and able. Compared with their counterparts in other nations, members of the SDF are remarkably well educated and in good physical condition. Literacy is universal, and school training was extensive. Personnel are trained in the martial arts, judo, and kendo, and physical standards are strict. The SDF probably does not attract the same high level of personnel as other institutions in Japan. Graduates of the top universities rarely enter the armed forces, and applicants to the National Defense Academy are generally considered to be on the level of those who apply to second-rank local universities.

General conditions of military life are not such that a career in the SDF seems an attractive alternative to one in private industry or the bureaucracy. The conditions of service provide less dignity, prestige, and comfort than they had before World War II, and for most members of the defense establishment, military life offers less status than did a civilian occupation. Those people who enter the SDF are often unfairly perceived by the citizenry as unable to find a better job.

As special civil servants, SDF personnel are paid according to civilian pay scales that do not always distinguish rank. At times, SDF salaries are greater for subordinates than for commanding officers; senior NCOs with long service can earn more than newly promoted colonels. Pay raises are not included in Defense Agency budgets and can not be established by military planners. Retirement ages for officers below flag rank range from fifty-three to fiftyfive years, and from fifty to fifty-three for enlisted personnel. Limits are sometimes extended because of personnel shortages. In the late 1980s, the Defense Agency, concerned about the difficulty of finding appropriate postretirement employment for these early retirees, began providing vocational training for enlisted personnel about to retire and transferring them to units close to the place where they intend to retire. Beginning in October 1987, the Self-Defense Forces Job Placement Association provided free job placement and reemployment support for retired SDF personnel. Retirees also receive pensions immediately upon retirement, some ten years earlier than most civil service personnel. Financing the retirement system promises to be a problem of increasing scope in the 1990s, with the aging of the population.

SDF personnel benefits are not comparable to such benefits for active-duty military personnel in other major industrialized nations. Health care is provided at the SDF Central Hospital, fourteen regional hospitals, and 165 clinics in military facilities and on board ship, but the health care only covers physical examinations and the treatment of illness and injury suffered in the course of duty. There are no commissary or exchange privileges. Housing is often substandard, and military appropriations for facilities maintenance often focus on appeasing civilian communities near bases rather than on improving on-base facilities.

Data as of January 1994

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