Tokyo — The 35,000 people that inhabit the small garrison town of Nayoro on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido have something new to talk about: how to cope with a Soviet military invasion.
Nayoro lies about 100 miles inland from Wakkanai, on the northern tip of the island (and within sight of Soviet territory), along one of the three "likely" routes for a Russian attack.
A Nayoro city official, wishing to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, has been widely quoted as saying there was no provision for a civilian evacuation in the case of Soviet attack.
Expressing his belief that the assault could not be stopped, the official described his mood as being one of "defeatism and surrender."
Municipal authorities in Wakkanai, meanwhile, have pooled their finances to build a "Japan-Soviet friendship hall." One has already been built in the island capital of Sapporo (site of the 1972 Winter Olympics) and others are planned in various parts of Hokkaido.
A Japanese magazine, noting these trends, observed: "While the threat of a Soviet invasion is not considered imminent, there is an undeniable atmosphere of anxiety and uneasiness in Hokkaido that is encouraging these plans to humor a potential aggressor."
In considering Japan's ability to respond to American requests that Japan assume a bigger share of the defense burden, the potential of the Self-Defense Forces to hold on to Hokkaido is a crucial element.
The island looks out over a route of Soviet access to the south from traditional Soviet bases on the Asian mainland, as well as bases being developed on islands captured from Japan at the end of World War II.
In the event of a war, military analysts believe the Soviets would quickly want to have command of Hokkaido to seal off the Sea of Okhotsk, which they could then use as a virtual Russian lake for launching submarine-based missiles.
A fictional account of a Russian invasion of Hokkaido is now enjoying considerable popularity in Japan.
Osamu Kaihara, former secretary-general of the National Defense Council, has conjectured that Japan's air defenses would be annihilated within 10 minutes, its naval forces put out of action in two days, and its ground forces completely disorganized within four days.
In Japanese contingency planning, it is accepted the Russians have enough troop-carrying capacity to put three mechanized rifle divisions ashore in a concerted attack on the main population and industrial centers.
Hokkaido has wide open spaces ideal for tank warfare. But recent war games have not given the Japanese much encouragement of their ability to withstand a major assault.
(There is a general assumption in Tokyo that, although the United States would quickly provide air and sea support, Japanese ground forces would be left to defend themselves.)
Last year, the eastern Army, protecting much of the main island of Honshu, including Tokyo, staged a division command-post map exercise. In a winter battle on the plains, a "Soviet" armored division proved so superior that the exercise was prematurely halted to avoid "total annihilation" of the Japanese side.
Last month, a fresh map exercise was held, with the Ground Self-Defense Forces seeking to improve the odds considerably by having the battle site switched to the mountains that constitute Honshu's spine.
This time, an invading Soviet mechanized regiment was opposed by a Japanese division, an airborne brigade, and a helicopterborne assault group. Despite the advantage in numbers, the Japanese were virtually routed due to the enemy's superior firepower.
That lesson has not been lost on the soldiers in Hokkaido. The key to the island's defense is the 7th Mechanized Division, which backs up the three infantry divisions guarding the traditional invasion routes.
The Japanese have not had the great tank tradition of, say, the Germans and Russians, but they are seeking to overcome this weakness. One of the 7th Division's aces is the locally developed Type 74 battle tank, which, with its pneumatic jacks, can alter its profile and attitude according to the terrain to provide an extremely stable gun platform.
Morale is high, with the tank men displaying a Patton-like bravado in their determination to "chase the enemy back into the sea."
The Ground Self-Defense Force headquarters says valiantly: "We will fight to the last with ingenuity and spiritual power, with the personnel and equipment given by the people."
But just in case spiritual power isn't enough, the 7th Mechanized Division is taking out insurance through the planned tripling of its Type 74 tank force to 180 within two years.
The defense agency is ordering $12 billion worth of new weapons for the three services between now and 1983. Half will go to the Air Force, which is to get 71 of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle fighter being built here under license. Six hundred new tanks and assorted armored vehicles are on order for the Army and the Navy will get 40 new ships, although nothing bigger than a destroyer.
Anything beyond that will have to come from a heightened public awareness of the need for more defense spending.Iran and Afghanistan have had considerable impact.