Young Japanese women seeking to become military reservists

Young Japanese women seeking to become military reservists
The resolution allows the SDF to help allies like the Philippines and the United States even if Japan itself is not under attack.

More young women are applying to become reservists in the Self-Defence Forces at a time when the number of reservists available during large-scale disasters or emergencies remains far below needs.

Reservists drew attention when they were called up after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011.

But the number of reservists remains very low, presumably because they are required to regularly undergo training.

The Defence Ministry began taking countermeasures this year, the 60th year of the start of the reserve system.

"Unconscious! Call an ambulance!" shouted reservist Mizuho Shigemura, 25, during an exercise at the Ground Self-Defence Force's Camp Asaka, which straddles Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture. She then began giving CPR to a dummy lying on the ground.

Reservists must undergo five days of training every year, including a life-saving exercise, fitness tests and weapons practice with a target 200 meters away.

Shigemura, who works at a major delivery company, took three days off from her job and gave up a weekend to participate in the training.

At the time of the March 2011 earthquake, about 1,600 reservists were called up for the first time to engage in such activities as supplying water and removing rubble.

Having learned about those activities, Shigemura, who was then a college student, registered in July the same year as an SDF reserve candidate and became a reservist in December after undergoing 50 days of training.

"There is little one woman can do. But when I work as part of an organisation like the Self-Defence Forces, I can help make a great contribution in a crisis," she said.

The Defence Ministry said that it began to accept female reservists in fiscal 1994. Their numbers increased after the 2011 disaster to about 2,000 in fiscal 2013 from about 1,560 in fiscal 2009.

On the other hand, a chronic shortage of reservists persists. There are only about 31,000 SDF reservists to fill 46,000 positions, or about 67 per cent of the goal.

For ready reservists, who must undergo 30 days of training every year and are subject to call-up in emergencies, only about 62 per cent of the goal is being met.

"Training requirements keep people from becoming reservists," one senior SDF officer surmised.

Believing that cooperation with businesses holds the key to improving the situation, the ministry decided to give extra points to construction companies during bidding for ministry projects if they employ reservists. The points would be considered in the bidding process in addition to such factors as price and technological capability.

The ministry has also asked the Finance Ministry to establish a system that would grant companies that hire reservists a ¥100,000 (S$1,116) exemption on corporate taxes for every reservist they hire.

"Under the current circumstances, we cannot cope with unforeseen emergencies," a senior SDF officer said. "We need to promptly increase the number [of reservists]."

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