Ice-cream, miniskirts and buff men: Japan's military goes youthful in recruitment drive

YOKOSUKA (Reuters) - Japan's military is wooing new recruits with images of smiling soldiers posing like pop stars in a series of photo books and DVDs that tap into youth culture.

Jet pilots, navigators and sailors are among the 60 Japanese servicemen and women who pose in and out of uniform.

Video footage features a woman eating an ice-cream, another in a miniskirt, and men posing bare-chested. Uniformed personnel are pictured jumping for joy. "I think this approach definitely helps our message to be delivered to the younger generation," Yasushi Kojima, a spokesman for Japan's maritime force, said.

The country's fast-ageing society and decreasing birth rates are a worry for military recruiters struggling to hire men and women to join the ranks of the Self-Defence Forces, which number around a quarter of a million.

Earlier this year, the armed forces roped in pop idol Haruka Shimazaki of the all-girl group AKB48 as a soft-sell recruitment draw. A bumper crop of military-themed broadcast content includes "Girls und Panzer", a popular anime TV show about schoolgirls fighting tank battles.

Reconnaissance plane pilot Nobuko Aoyama, one of 21 women starring in the "National Defence" series, said she joined the campaign hoping to raise awareness about the military. "Japan's youth seldom recognise there is a military in this country, unless they have a family member or friends who are in the service," Aoyama said.

Over 16,000 albums have been sold since May and publisher Takeshobo is considering another print run.