Japan Self-Defense Forces officers search for victims in Higashimatsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area, March 14, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters/Kyodo)
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For much of the postwar period, the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) has remained in the background of national life. Post-war sensitivities about pre-war militarism left little room for the SDF to vaunt its capabilities, or its bravery.
But today, as the country faces a complex and simultaneous series of crises, Japan’s military has emerged as the nation’s most relied upon “first responder.” In Japan’s largest disaster relief operation ever, the SDF has every asset deployed. The Maritime Self Defense Force has 59 ships offshore, and there are a total of 176 helicopters and 319 fixed-wing aircraft engaged. Personnel total 70,000 (40,000 Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF) and 30,000 combined Maritime and Air Self Defense Force personnel), and the number is growing. For the first time in the postwar era, the Japanese government has mobilized its reserves.
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