This is Part 10 of a 47-part series of weekly blog posts looking at curries from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Curry may have come to Japan via its navy (as I explained in my first post in this series), but this week I focus on a different branch of the military: the air force.
Oops. Did I say Japan has an air force? Officially, it has no military at all. The Constitution forbids it. Articled 9, titled “Renunciation of War,” reads as follows:
“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
” In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
This article, part of the American-drafted Japanese Constitution that came into effect in 1947, echoes the 1928 Kellog-Briand Pact and the 1945 United Nations Charter, both of which officially imposed a global ban on war. It’s a noble sentiment, but wars keep happening. Japan, however, has not been a combatant in any of them since its Constitution took effect.
On the other hand, Japan has built up plenty of “war potential” over the years. It may not have an army, navy or air force, but it does have a Ground Self-Defense Force, a Maritime Self-Defense Force and an Air Self-Defense Force. Together, these bodies have 248,000 active troops – more than Britain or France. NATO (of which Japan is not a member) may be the world’s best-known military alliance, but Japan has more submarines (18) and more combat aircraft (348) than any NATO member except the United States. The world’s four biggest defense spenders appear to be the United States, China, Britain and Japan. (All of this according to numbers in the 2013 World Almanac.)
As big as Japan’s military-which-isn’t-officially-a-military may be on a world scale, it’s still the little kid in its own neighborhood. All of its immediate neighbors – China, Russia, Taiwan and the two Koreas – have militaries that are far larger by many measurements. And not all of those neighbors are entirely friendly to Japan.
Therefore, some people – most notably Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – would like to make Japan’s military stronger. (And some, again including Abe, would like to amend the Constitution to make that possible.) This month, the government released a white paper on defense in which it said, among other things, that the Self Defense Forces should develop amphibious assault capabilities similar to those of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Capturing islands may sound more like offense than defense, but China’s recently aggressive handling of territorial disputes with many of its neighbors – which includes staking a claim to Japan’s Senkaku Islands – makes it easy to imagine a situation in which Japan wouldn’t exactly take islands, but might have to take them back. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, “torimodosu” (the Japanese word for “take back”) is a prominent feature of Abe’s political vocabulary. Listen to how often he uses it in this 2012 campaign ad:
Anyway, all of this military-political stuff leads up to the fact that there is an Air Self-Defense Force base in Miyazaki Prefecture, and they serve curry in the mess hall.
To set the scene, Miyazaki is on the east coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. In recent years, this prefecture made national news quite often. Partly this was because a famous television comedian named Hideo Higashikokubaru was its governor from 2007 to 2011. And partly it was because during his term outbreaks of bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease led to strict quarantines and massive culls of chicken, cattle and pigs. Nearly 200,000 chickens and more than 200,000 head of livestock had to be killed and disposed of, in a severe blow to the prefecture’s farmers, especially those who produce Miyazaki’s famous beef.
But in addition to agriculture, Miyazaki’s economy also includes the activities of Nyutabaru Air Base. And those activities include making curry. This weekend I picked up some Nyutabaru Air Base curry at the Miyazaki antenna shop in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
The curry I tried came in two flavors: spicy beef and mild chicken. The beef has a photo of an F-4EJ Phantom jet on the box, while the chicken is adorned with a pair of F-15s. These planes, originally developed for the U.S. Air Force by McDonnell-Douglas, are built under license by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the ASDF.
As for the curry itself, it is made under the supervision of Nyutabaru Air Base’s kyuuyou kotai (which might be translated as “food service platoon”). According to the back of the boxes, mixing the spicy curry with the mild curry is a “trend” among base personnel.
One bite, and I could see why: They didn’t put curry powder on the beef – they doused it in jet fuel! Whooooo-ee! The beef curry was so spicy it instantly gave me hiccups. That almost never happens.
The photo I took of the chicken and beef curries side by side in a bowl was not my most beautiful work. It was even less pretty after I mashed them together (following the trend), but at least I was able to get it down.
On carefully reading the ingredient labels, I realized that there was no jet fuel after all, just the usual vegetables, meat and curry roux. Even so, I can’t help wondering if the Nyutabaru Air Base pilots use this curry to haze new recruits. If I ever eat it again, I’m going to treat it like spicy chili and cool it down with a big dollop of sour cream.
Now, if someone could only figure out a way to air-drop a few tons of sour cream onto the Senkaku Islands…