Last weekend, with the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, the Japanese dailies published a few interesting public opinion surveys worth considering.

On China

One Yomiuri article presented the results of an October survey conducted with Xinhua’s Oriental Outlook Weekly of China which sought to define the change in Sino-Japanese public opinion in the wake of the earthquake. According to the survey, 55% of Chinese felt they “can trust” Japan, a significant jump from the 15% who replied as such in 2010. Conversely, however, only 11% of Japanese respondents could say the same about China. 79% replied that they could not trust China.

On the SDF

Regarding the Self-Defense Forces, there were a slew of articles looking at a Cabinet Office survey that showed a post-quake boost in support. The major results make for interesting reading.

This year marks the highest percentage of people to have a good impression of the SDF and the lowest percentage for having a bad impression since its inception.

Results of the 2012 Cabinet Survey - Impression of SDF

On the strength of the SDF, we can see a significant drop off in support for the reduction of the SDF’s strength, perhaps in response to the need for disaster-response capabilities (a need amply demonstrated by the recent disaster) as well as a recognition of recent efforts by the government to streamline the SDF. The rise in support for strengthening the SDF is certainly related to this as well.

Results of the 2012 Cabinet Survey - Should the SDF be strengthened?

The difficulty in pulling apart whether the public desires a disaster relief-oriented SDF or are genuinely concerned by national security threats can be seen in the chart below, where disaster relief is more widely seen as a goal of the SDF than defense – an impression no doubt hammered home by the recent disaster.

Results of 2012 Cabinet Survey - What is the goal of the SDF's existence?

When asked on their thoughts about the SDF’s disaster relief mission, 97.7% of the respondents (from throughout the country) valued their activities, although the stratification shows some significant differences based on age (20-29 year olds in particular).

Results of the 2012 Cabinet Survey - Evaluation of SDF's disaster relief

The respondents’ appraisal of the US military’s relief efforts, Operation Tomodachi, was a little more muted, but still shows significant appreciation, which 79.2% of the respondents believing the operation to have borne fruit.

Results of 2012 Cabinet Survey - Impression of Operation Tomodachi

One of the possible results of the increased general support of the SDF has been the possibility that it would remove some of the stigma of being a serviceman or woman in a decidedly anti-military country. The poll shows a slight improvement in this over the 2009 survey, with the weakest support coming from the 40-49 year olds and females.

Results of 2012 Cabinet Survey - Support for Joining SDF

The reasons given for this approval or opposition were given, and in terms of support, they show an improvement in the respondent’s understanding of the need for a self-defense force, with the idea that it is just another job losing ground somewhat. This seems to correspond with what we see in other countries where service in the military is seen as a noble civic service, although Japan is far from that.

Results of 2012 Cabinet Survey - Reasons for Approval

In terms of opposition to joining the SDF, the only significant move seems to be the understanding that the job itself is very tough, reflecting concern for the individual rather than simply a lack of understanding.

Results of 2012 Cabinet Survey - Reasons for Opposition

I apologize for the translation of the question in the next graph, but it is a tough one for me (国民が国を守るという気持ちをもっと持つようにするため,教育の場で取り上げる必要があると思うか). At any rate, it is about the need to instill an understanding or feeling of the what it means to protect the country by way of education. There has been a clear rise in the past decade.

According to the report, respondents in Kyushu were the most opposed to idea that there was a need for such education, as well as among respondents in their 20s and 40s, where as for male respondents and respondents in their 60s and 70s (and above), they were much more likely to see a need.

Results of the 2012 Cabinet Survey - Need for Education in Protecting the Country

There are a whole load of other questions which I’ve not taken the time to translate, and it should be noted that (sample size aside), these longitudinal studies are extremely helpful in tracking public support for the SDF, something that is thankfully on the rise. They have a horrendous job at times, but being appreciated will make their lives all the better.


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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch