Tokyo: Japanese battle tanks, helicopters and elite troops stormed the foothills of Mount Fuji on Tuesday in a first-of-its-kind display of the tactics and equipment the nation's military could use to defend or retake islands in and around the East China Sea.
The manoeuvres involving some 60 Japanese military aircraft, including Apache attack helicopters, marked the first time Japan's Self-Defence Forces have simulated a remote island battle as part of an annual live-fire exercise that has become part training drill and part patriotic spectacle.
Some 14,000 spectators, who had applied in advance for the limited viewing space, watched as Apache helicopters opened fire on imaginary enemy positions.
Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters then swooped in to land elite Japanese troops, who dropped to the group of spectators via ropes.
The exercises also included 80 battle tanks and armoured vehicles and some 2,300 SDF troops.
A large video screen mounted to a truck showed a map of the islands near Okinawa that are the subject of a territorial dispute with China, and provided running commentary on the manoeuvres.
Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has taken steps to relax limits imposed on its military by a pacifist constitution that dates back to defeat in World War Two.
In a strategic shift, Japan is building a new amphibious military unit and doubling the number of fighter jets deployed on Okinawa, galvanised by China's growing power and claims on tiny uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan.
In July, Abe also ended a ban that kept Japan's military from fighting abroad, a historic step that both riled China and worried many Japanese voters. But the crowd who gathered in the shadow of Japan's tallest and most famous mountain voiced support for a strong military.