Here’s an interesting article from someone who appears to be a U.S. Navy veteran with experience interacting with Maritime Self Defense Force members, and compares the institutional cultures of both. Well worth reading.

In the Japanese military, members often reach a rank plateau and simply stay there for the rest of their careers. Thus it’s not unusual to find a 43 year old lieutenant commander (O-4) who remains at that rank for fifteen years.

Why? Because a central problem for the Japanese military is that neither the government nor the country itself really sees the “Self Defence Force” as a real army or the Maritime SDF as a real navy. Japan has been “allergic” to having a real military ever since the Japanese parliamentary democracy was founded after the post-World War II occupation ended. (original emphasis)(Link)

The author makes the point that the Japanese government and people see the military as more of a jobs program than anything else, and this has far-reaching consequences, affecting everything from a lack of realistic training, to the way in which secrets are managed. (SDF personnel are considered civil servants.) Most importantly, the lack of an “up or out” culture means that mediocre career personnel may simply stick around and gum up the system until their retirement. (Hmm, reminds me of San Francisco’s civil servants…)

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch