Students listen to instructions during rifle training at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force High Technical School on Sept. 17, 2014 in Yokosuka, Japan.
Students listen to instructions during rifle training at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force High Technical School on Sept. 17, 2014 in Yokosuka, Japan.Chris McGrath—Getty Images
Students listen to instructions during rifle training at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force High Technical School on Sept. 17, 2014 in Yokosuka, Japan.
Students sleep in a dormitory.
A student cleans a hallway floor ahead of the day's training.
First grade students assemble at first light to receive the day's training schedule.
Students work on a problem during IT class.
Students work on a robot during robotics classes.
Students stand to attention while the schools song is played over loudspeakers during track and field training.
Students get dressed ahead of the day's training.
Students from first and second grade put on their boots at the end of the day's classes.
First grade students begin marching practice.
First grade students practice marching ahead of the day's marching competition.
Students practice using their rifles during first grade rifle training.
First grade students take part in rifle training.
Students salute their teacher after finishing rifle training.
Students lineup to be served lunch at the school cafeteria.
Students eat lunch at the school cafeteria.
A student grapples with his teacher during Judo classes.
Students take part in wrestling classes.
First grade students listen to a teacher at at the end of the day's training.
Students do pull-ups during a moment of free time at the end of the day's training.
Students listen to instructions during rifle training at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force High Technical School on Se
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Chris McGrath—Getty Images
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The High School Where Japan's Kids Learn to Become Soldiers

Sep 25, 2014

Playing soldier isn’t what many Japanese kids today grow up doing. After its brutal march across Asia was halted by the Allies in World War II, imperial Japan accepted a U.S.-written constitution that limited its armed forces from engaging in offensive action.

Despite these constraints, some young Japanese are eager to serve their country. Each year, 4,500 students apply to gain admission to the sole high school run by the nation’s army, which is known as the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Only 300 applicants gain admission.

Nearly all of the JGSDF High Technical School’s students pursue army careers. They could well see more action. In July, Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed a reinterpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that would allow the nation to engage in what’s called collective self-defense, or the ability to defend allies that are under attack.

But all that war-gaming is in the future. As photographer Chris McGrath shows, life at the JGSDF High Technical School, which opened in 1955, is a mash-up of boot camp and science fair. Students build robots then retreat to bunks in Spartan dorms. There’s plenty of marching, plus the rigor of Japanese martial arts like judo. What could be more enticing for a patriotic young Japanese?

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