Yuya Motomura, a mahjong room manager in Japan, has always wanted to prove himself to a society he feels despised. Then Russia invaded Ukraine.
The 45-year-old is one of the few Japanese men to have joined the Ukrainians in fighting the Russian invasion, despite their government’s warnings and against the principle of international peace. spanning decades.
Japan’s military is constitutionally limited to defense and has not fought since World War II.
However, Motomura said he was immediately attracted to the idea of fighting in Ukraine when he saw President Volodymyr Zelensky talk about “defending our independence, our country”.
“I’ve always felt I’m more socially conscious than others think,” he told AFP as he prepared to leave Japan to join the conflict.
“By fighting for Ukraine, I can prove it with more than just words.”
Motomura made his first trip to Ukraine just two months after the Russian invasion, initially carrying supplies for refugees and displaced persons.
He was determined to find a place among the country’s warriors, and after many trips he was accepted into the Georgian Legion, which consisted of many foreign members.
He was not the first recruit to the legion from Japan, and his acceptance was relaxed by a fellow countryman, who was called Haru-san and had admitted previously belonging to the yakuza – Japanese mafia.
Georgian Army Corps commander Mamuka Mamulashvili told AFP that the unit currently has eight Japanese out of soldiers of 33 nationalities in its ranks.
“They are very motivated, very disciplined, and easily grasp the training they are going through,” he said.
Against government advice
While many of the foreign fighters who flock to Ukraine from other countries have had military and combat experience, Japan’s unique constitutional constraints mean that its volunteers start out as soldiers. absolutely new.
And when the Ukrainian embassy in Tokyo initially called for volunteers to join the war – echoing Zelensky’s invitation for foreign assistance – they quickly withdrew.
The Japanese government, like elsewhere, has warned its citizens against traveling to Ukraine.
A determined small group ignored that advice.
Last year, Japan confirmed that a citizen believed to be a former member of its military had been killed in battle in Ukraine.
And Motomura said he has been contacted by members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces who support his plan.
“I think a lot of people in this country are frustrated by being bound by the constitution,” he said.
Motomura has helped recruit others for the purpose, with Kenjiro Miyamori, a former chef, telling AFP he inspired him to join the legion.
“I’m sure there are many men in Ukraine who don’t want to go to the front but have to go to war for their loved ones,” the 44-year-old said via video from Ukraine.
“I want to replace one of them and fight for their country.”
‘Not valid in Japan’
Motomura admits his motivation is tied to personal circumstances, including a difficult childhood.
“I stopped going to school when I was in the 4th grade (10 years old),” he says, recounting his first memory – sitting backstage at an evening pub where his mother performed.
She became mentally ill after escaping his abusive father, and he dropped out of school to take care of her, he said.
He now runs a shop where customers play Chinese mahjong puzzles, sleep during the day and live separately from their two children and their mother.
“If I had the money and this store was doing well, I wouldn’t go,” he said as he packed up items including camouflage jackets and khaki jackets.
“I am a worthless person in Japan, but I hope to bring back something from Ukraine.”
Miyamori also credits his divorce and separation from his three-year-old son as part of his motivation to fight.
“I think there are many people like me,” he said.
The two men arrived in Ukraine in April, but were cautious about the exact nature of their training, saying only that it included a lot of running and exercise.
Motomura said he still doesn’t know when or even if he will be deployed, but he doesn’t regret his decision.
“Ukrainian people can feel encouraged just by the fact that we came here from Japan,” he said from Kyiv.
“I’m here in this country, hoping to use myself. In that sense, I feel fulfilled.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from an aggregated feed.)