GSDF troops clear a road near Mihonoseki, Shimane Prefecture in January 2011

GSDF troops clear a road near Mihonoseki, Shimane Prefecture on January 2nd 2011 (Source: Chidorimaru)

It is important to remember that the SDF’s most common domestic role is as emergency and disaster relief provider. Annually, the Ground Self-Defense Force are typically asked to help with the mountains of snow that collects across this nation. This winter has been no different.

On December 28th 2010, the Daily Yomiuri reported that 300 vehicles in Fukushima had been stranded since Christmas Day, criticizing the prefectural government’s 11-hour wait in asking for GSDF mobilization. Under the Self-Defense Forces Law, mobilization cannot begin until after the GSDF receive such a request from metropolitan or prefectural governors.

Over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, over 1000 cars were trapped in Tottori prefecture, and 170 houses were left isolated in Matsue, in neighboring Shimane Prefecture. Yonago Meteorlogical Station recorded a record high 89 centimeters of snow as of 5 a.m. on January 2nd, the highest level since observations started in 1940.

The disastrous amounts of snow this year were the subject of a Ministerial Meeting given by Prime Minister Kan on Tuesday, February 1st. He urged local governments to consider asking the GSDF for support, and so yesterday, the Governor of Niigata Hirohiko Izumida asked for SDF support to clear the city of Uonuma from being buried under more than 4-meters of snow, “saying the danger of avalanches is increasing as temperatures rise,” according to the Japan Times. The GSDF is expected to dispatch a team from Camp Takada in Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture.

The location of Camp Takada is shown below. Uonuma is 60 kilometers (approx. 37 miles) as the crow flies, but the area is full of impassable mountains, making the journey closer to 100 kilometers (approx. 62 miles).

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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