General Kunio Orita retired from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) Air Support Command (Koku Shien Shudan) in 2009. Among other things, he served as a fighter pilot and in a commanding role during the JASDF's deployment to Iraq in 2006.
In many ways, however, General Orita's fighting days did not end with his retirement. He has emerged as one of the strongest voices inside Japan calling for the country's fighting men and women to be recognized in the Japanese constitution. And he has called for them to be provided the material and moral support needed to defend Japan.
In June of 2023, I interviewed General Orita, a recent addition to Reitaku University as a visiting professor, in his Reitaku office. He spoke of a Japanese fighting force that is top-flight and able to contribute greatly to regional stability. However, General Orita warned that Japan's Self-Defense Forces need to be much stronger to ward off aggression by Japan's neighboring countries.
Japan Needs to Be Ready
I begin the interview by congratulating General Orita on the Seiron Taisho, a prestigious honor he was awarded in late 2022. (He also received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, in 2022.)
General Orita politely accepts my congratulations, but quickly returns the focus to Japan. He sees war brewing over Taiwan and wants Japan to be ready.
"Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe often said that a crisis for Taiwan would entail a crisis for Japan," General Orita tells me.
"This is undoubtedly true. If war breaks out around Taiwan, Okinawa will be part of the battlespace too. Japan must make preparations now to evacuate its citizens from Taiwan as well as from Okinawa and other outlying islands."
Much Work to Be Done
"The Japanese people will have to pay a heavy price if war, or even the threat of war, escalates around Taiwan," General Orita continues.
"In casualties, possibly, but also in the cost of shipping. For example, it may cost as much as thirty million yen per tanker in additional fuel costs to reroute shipping around a war zone centered on Taiwan. Japan imports more than 90% of its energy and some 60% of its foodstuffs. Surcharges on shipping will hit all sectors of the economy, hard."
General Orita reminds me that former Prime Minister Abe built up the security framework in which Japan is now largely operating. However, geopolitical realities, and Japanese political headwinds, kept Abe from using the word "kuni," "country," to refer to Taiwan. So, Taiwan is technically excluded from much of Abe's hard-earned regional realism.
"Collective defense doesn't extend to Taiwan, because it isn't recognized as a country," General Orita underscores.
There is still, he continues, much work to be done to get Japan ready to face the challenges that loom on the horizon.
'China Is a Dictatorship'
It was General Orita's lecture in a Reitaku course that prompted my interview request. In mid-May of 2023, General Orita, a guest professor with the Reitaku University International Issues Research Center, spoke to a packed Reitaku classroom about possible scenarios for Chinese aggression against Taiwan. To be perfectly candid, it was the most informed, informative, and direct lecture on the subject I have ever heard.
"China is a dictatorship," General Orita said during the lecture. "So, the decision whether, and when, to invade Taiwan will be Chinese President Xi Jinping's."
General Orita repeated his assessment during our June interview, clarifying that Xi will move against Taiwan "by 2027, without fail."
"CIA director William Burns is saying the same thing," General Orita tells me during our interview. "So is Xi himself. And the overall pattern holds for Xi as well. His ambition is to be greater than Mao Zedong. But there were systematic constraints put in place after Mao's dictatorship, constraints which Xi has been removing.
"As a dictator, Xi has no choice but to remain in power. He must achieve a fourth term in office at the Twenty-First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2027. By that time, he will need to show results."
Showing a Fighting Posture
General Orita mentions several times during our interview that Japan is hamstrung by its constitution and laws, which keep the Self-Defense Forces from operating at full military readiness. This legal and constitutional sandbagging is a product, General Orita tells me, of the postwar.
"Japan experienced the strange Yoshida Doctrine," General Orita says, speaking of the policy of postwar prime minister Shigeru Yoshida which traded American defense for domestic Japanese economic prosperity. "This was part of a traumatic disorder caused by losing the Second World War.
"But the basic task for any nation-state is self-defense. Japan must overcome its postwar trauma and stand on its own two feet again. The war of influence and the information war by China is already underway in the Pacific and in Asia. China is too big for any one country to handle, so Japan must step up and join the fight for freedom.
"We have to show China a fighting posture," General Orita emphasizes. "We have to be ready to fight at any moment. A fighting posture will keep China in check. Readiness is what stops wars from starting in the first place."
Japan Self-Defense Forces Are the Best-Prepared
General Orita spent his career in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Part of his responsibility was to ensure the men and women under his command were ready to protect the country.
"Some 60% of constitution scholars in Japan say that the Self-Defense Forces may not even be constitutional," General Orita laments. "But the reality is that the Self-Defense Forces exist, and are some of the best in the business anywhere in the world."
General Orita tells me about deployments to Iraq with air forces from other countries. "Out of every air force out there, only Japan had 100% OR, operational readiness, every day," General Orita says.
The reason? General Orita tells me that the men and women of the Japan Air Self-Defense Forces would stay up all night getting equipment fixed and ready for action.
"We have the best preparation and the best, most dependable pilots. The men and women in Japan's Air Self-Defense Forces are disciplined, punctual, respectful, well-educated, and well-trained.
"American pilots want to fly Japan jets, affectionately known as 'bluebirds' because of the Japan Self-Defense Forces' aircraft color. They're the safest and best maintained."
It sounds as though Japan's Air Self-Defense Forces are the envy of the world.
Japan Self-Defense Forces Are the Worst-Prepared
During our interview, I ask General Orita about a statement I heard attributed to him.
In March of 2023, journalist and free-speech champion Yoshiko Sakurai gave a speech at the Moralogy Institute in Kashiwa. During that speech, Sakurai mentioned remarks General Orita had made during a Genron TV appearance in May of 2022.
General Orita had said, it seems, that in the event of a war, Japan would have enough ammunition to fight for just one morning, no longer.
"Yes, that's right," General Orita confirms.
"Budgets require hard choices," he continues. "It takes airplanes to train pilots. Training pilots is more important, in the long run, than stockpiling ammunition. So budgets have prioritized buying F-35s and training pilots on them over, for example, facilities upkeep or having stores of bullets and other materiel."
So, if fighting were to break out today, Japan would find itself with highly-trained pilots with, effectively, nothing to shoot at the enemy.
"In Ukraine, fighters are going through ten thousand rounds of ammunition a day," General Orita says. "The reality is that Japan needs bullets. We also need more recruits.
"Even from a budgetary standpoint, it's much cheaper to prevent a war by being ready, than to pay for a war that a dictator has started."
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has greatly increased spending on defense. It is hoped that this will help stop Japan's, and maybe Taiwan's, becoming the next Ukraine or Hong Kong.
Revise the Constitution, Get Ready to Fight
As our interview ends, I ask General Orita if he thinks the Japanese people will be ready to fight if, like Ukraine, they wake up one day to find themselves in a warzone.
"The Japanese people are very wise," General Orita responds. "They know what is going on, and they understand that the world is changing.
"The reality is that Taiwan and Japan are cooperating in various areas, and Taiwan and the United States are working together in military training.
"If people in Japan start to lose family members to fighting, like the Ukrainian people are now, then the ways of thinking here will quickly change.
"As Prime Minister Abe said, a Taiwan crisis is a Japan crisis," General Orita closes.
"There is no more time for what's called an 'Odawara hyojo,' endless and fruitless indecision. We need to revise the constitution and recognize that the Self-Defense Forces are here to protect Japan.
"The time to get ready for the next dictator's war is right now, in every way possible."
- Japan's National Defense: What You Need to Know
- [Speaking Out] Even China's Peaceful Unification with Taiwan Will Be a Serious Matter for Japan
- [All Politics is Global] Why Is China Suddenly Pursuing Okinawa?
- [Speaking Out] Taiwan Contingency: Crisis Management Requires Strong Cooperation
Author: Jason Morgan, PhD
Dr Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.