"Working for the Self-defense Forces presents boundless
dreams - like the earth, ocean and the sea," says Haruka
Shimazaki of the all-girl group AKB48 in a new 30-second
commercial distributed by the Defense Ministry.
"There's work that you can only do here," she says with a smile.
A pink heart-shaped cherry petal spins as she points to the
English phrase "You AND PEACE."
The nationally broadcast ad was released last week on the same
day that Abe made his latest move toward a more muscular
military, easing restrictions on Japanese troops fighting
overseas. In April he eased decades-old restrictions on military
exports after ending a decade of defense-spending cuts, worrying
giant neighbor China.
It was just a coincidence that the ad, part of a broader
recruitment drive, came out just when Abe's Cabinet was
reinterpreting the pacifist, post-World War Two constitution to
allow Japan's 224,526-strong military to defend friendly nations
under attack, said a Defense Ministry spokesman.
"We want to give a friendly image and make it easier for youth
to apply to the Self-defense Forces," said the spokesman, who
asked not to be named, citing ministry policy. "We chose a
member of AKB48 because the group is popular and well-known
among high school students, the main target of our recruitment."
Shimazaki is one of the more bankable stars of the pop group.
Fans recently voted her No. 7 among the 296 members of AKB48 and
its sister groups.
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The idol was selected, in part, because she had an earnest image,
said an official at Asahi Advertising Inc, the ad agency that
pitched Shimazaki to the Defense Ministry. Shimazaki previously did
a spot for the Japanese Red Cross Society.
The ad follows a tradition of the armed forces using female idols as
soft-sell recruitment draws. In a country known for adoring all
things cute, the Defense Ministry has also long helped film
directors, animators and TV producers produce military-themed
content, including a cartoon about schoolgirls fighting tank
Still, Shimazaki may have a tough sell.
Applications for military service run about 10 times the spaces
available in recent years, but Abe's recent military moves are not
popular. An opinion poll by Kyodo News after last week's historic
shift showed 54.4 percent oppose allowing "collective self-defense,"
compared to 34.6 percent who support the change.
A photo of a bikini-clad critic with the caption "Let's all oppose
collective self-defense" has circulated on Twitter and Facebook in
response to the Defense Ministry's charm offensive.
(Editing by William Mallard and Nick Macfie)
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