Japan and Ukraine are miles apart, but as it turns out, Japanese airsoft players are big fans of the Ukrainian military—so much so that they are now dressing as Ukrainians and modeling their game scenarios after anti-terrorist operations in eastern Ukraine.
Airsoft, a military simulation game in which participants seek to eliminate opponents by hitting each other with non-metallic pellets, originated in Japan. The game is often played using organized scenarios based on military simulations or historical reenactments. “Combat situations” in a particular scenario may involve the use of military tactics to achieve objectives set in each game, and participants often attempt to emulate the tactical equipment and accessories used by modern military or police organizations. Strikeball is a more serious variant of airsoft, with regulated safety guidelines, insured fields, detailed game scenarios, and promoters for legal events.
It's not surprising then, that as the creators of the game, Japanese airspoft players should be the most inventive about their game scenarios. But who would expect them to be self-professed fans of the Ukrainian military? A Ukrainian LiveJournal blogger, rastamandita, recently discovered a series of photo reports on a Japanese airsoft blog, full of players dressed in painstakingly recreated Ukrainian uniforms and military insignia, and armed with replica airsoft guns.
В Японии, оказывается! целый культ нашей войны, там внимательно следят за ходом, покупают (в совместных закупках) униформу, шевроны, очки, обувь и проч. и устраивают костюмированные игры, где тщательно подбирают все детали. Фотки с их игр перемежаются оригинальными фотками Минобороны Украины, описаниями оружия, особенностей униформы и проч.
It turns out! in Japan our war has become a kind of cult, they follow the events carefully, buy (in cooperation) uniforms, chevrons, glasses, boots, etc. and stage costumed games, where all the details are carefully thought out. The photos from the games are mixed with the original photos of Ukraine's Defense Ministry, descriptions of the firearms, details of the uniforms, etc.
The blog discovered by rastamandita, “Українаに魅せられて。” (“Charmed by Ukraine”), is indeed chock full of images of Japanese airsoft players cosplaying Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers, as well as those of actual Ukrainians (one post showcases photos from the joint US-Ukraine Rapid Trident training exercises). Other content on the blog includes detailed studies of uniform detail, insignia of various Ukrainian army divisions and volunteer battalions, and the logos and gear of the Russian-supported militant formations in eastern Ukraine.
A recent post suggests one airsoft game in particular was devoted to the National Guard of Ukraine, while another meet-up saw players come dressed as members of various units of the Ukrainian military. The blog also suggests that many of the Ukrainian-themed games pay homage to the controversial Azov Battalion, although there is no mention of the Right Sector, another right-wing organization whose members participate in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine. Ultimately, the players seem more interested in recreating the details of the costumes and gear, in order to be as authentic as possible when staging their airsoft/strikeball games between “opposing forces.”
The author of the “Charmed by Ukraine” blog describes himself as “just a middle-aged dude interested in anything to do with Ukrainian military gear,” and lists among his particular interests groups such as Ukrainian paratrooper battalions, special forces, interior troops, Russian paratroopers, and the Red Army of 1918. He emerges as a typical representative of the Japanese “otaku” culture, which unites individuals who are obsessed by all of the details and intricacies that make up a particular interest or cultural phenomenon—in this case, Ukrainian military gear and “military culture.”
The blogger says his interest is purely cultural, and that he doesn't wish to engage in the politics around the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
Since my blog has nothing to do with politics and is just about military gear, I am not going to say whether the Ukrainian side or the ethnic Russian side are right or wrong. I am not going to discuss that at all.
Japanese otakus (and otakus around the world, for that matter) are interested in all kinds of things, from sci-fi to anime and manga, but the fact that recent events in Ukraine have also drawn their attention is testament to the truly global communication and information flows, and the power of the Internet to enable people to learn about—and engage with—the history and culture of countries that, on a map, may seem very far apart.