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I watched Japanese movies about WW2 and they show people from different occupations were drafted to war in different ways but somebody like a government worker or police weren’t. I want to know how the Japanese military drafted their citizens for war.

I am studying child psychology so I want to know about the education system in Japan during WW2 and especially the lives of male and female students and their situation of military use. I understand that they used university students for Kamikaze but did they use high school students (age of 13-18) in the army or navy also?

Thank you



Dear MDP,

Japanese education stressed duty to the homeland (much as American education did when I was a student), but its national conscription system, instituted on January 10, 1873, reflected a change in the social structure to which many conservatives in the old samurai class objected (culminating in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877). Every male at age 20 had to register for two years of service and remain in reserve status, subject to recall, until 40. Firstborn sons, students and teachers were exempt, so the bulk of the army was mostly peasants, though their ability to train to proficiency on firearms made the professional samurai warrior obsolete in 1877.

The Japanese prided themselves on an efficient recruiting system and bureaucracy, which they thought superior to the Germans’. There remained some sore points, however. All military personnel went through the army, resulting in the Imperial Navy usually getting whatever rejects the army didn’t want—not the least of the services’ mutual rivalry, though the navy earned a lot of prestige by its stunning 1905 victory over the Russian fleet at Tsushima and its technical overtaking of the army’s air arm in the late 1930s. Also, many reservists with two years’ experience who were pressed back into service during World War II resented having to take orders from younger officers and NCOs who outranked them—yet another affront to Japan’s earlier social system in which age mattered more than it did on the 20th century battlefield.

As the military situation in World War II became more desperate, Japan began altering the original conscription laws. In autumn 1943 all males over 20, including college students, were subject to enlistment, and its coinciding with the first suicide attacks explains why such a high percentage of college level enlistees were assigned to “Special Attack” duties. In 1944 men under 20—as young as 15—were eligible for military service and on February 26, 1945, the National Resistance Program made men 15 to 60 and women 17 to 40 subject to training for a projected final defense of the homeland if it was invaded.

Korean and Formosan subjects of the empire could volunteer for service from 1938 on, but in practice they almost invariably ended up in labor battalions. In 1944 Japan began drafting Koreans into service as well as Formosans in 1945—again, acts of desperation that were too late to make a difference in Japan’s ultimate fate.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

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