My Two-Weeks with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force

LINK - April 2017 / May 31, 2017

By SLt Ben Mason, HMCS Scotian

In early September, I was selected to sail on the flagship of the Japanese Training Squadron aboard Japanese Ship (JS) Kashima for two weeks during her Overseas Training Cruise for newly commissioned officers. My sail aboard JS Kashima was part of the REGULUS program, which facilitates exchanges with partner navies from around the world to provide training opportunities and exposing sailors to the diverse cultures of Canada's allied navies.

On 8 October, 2016, I left Canada to fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka where I met the ship and many people that I now call friends. I arrived on October 10th and met my eight cabin mates who I would spend the next two weeks with, as well as thirteen other officers from four different continents, who were also there to learn about the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) and Japanese culture.

For the two weeks I was with the JMSDF, I watched and learned how the young Japanese officers are taught. The training cruise is similar to a five month long at-sea MARS II that every Japanese Naval officer must complete. The students learn about life at sea as well as a basic understanding of all the departments on the ship which include: bridge watch keeping, engineering, command and control (Communications and operations), gunnery and underwater warfare. They spend two weeks in every section completing a variety of tasks that they are given and then rotate to the next section, giving each person a general understanding of what each department does. Performing well during the training cruise is essential to the students because unlike our military, they do not get to choose which trade they will work in, and at the end of the sail they are told what job they have been selected for based on performance and aptitude.

We transited the Strait of Malacca on our way to Manila, Philippines, conducting training such as highline personnel transfers, helicopter operations and Officer of the Watch manoeuvres for three hours every morning to start the day. For the most part I was an observer during this training, but near the end of the trip I was allowed to drive the ship during manoeuvres which was interesting considering my limited knowledge of Japanese. The foreign officers were also required to deliver a presentation about their respective navy and lead a seminar for the Japanese officers in leadership as a junior officer.

When I departed JS Kashima in Manila two weeks later, I had made lots of new friends and gained invaluable experience working with officers from around the world. The Japanese Ship Rider Program in which I participated provided the perfect framework for multi-national communication and relationship development at the junior level, which if continued will benefit the RCN and our relationship with the JMSDF at all levels.