A keen appetite for curry has landed six members of Japan’s maritime self-defence forces (SDF) in trouble, after it emerged that they had been tucking into the dish without paying for up to three years.
The SDF members, including an officer in his 50s, helped themselves to free curry at Hachinohe air base in north-east Japan, apparently ignoring rules requiring them to pay, according to Japanese media reports.
The dish is gratis for personnel living in barracks or stationed on board ships docked at the base, Sora News 24 reported.
But the officer and his five colleagues did not belong to either group and should have paid for their meals.
The officer, who has not been named, did not pay for a single one of his Friday lunchtime curries between July 2017 and March 2020, while others had helped themselves free of charge for two to three years since 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
The officer reportedly attempted to justify his transgression, telling SDF investigators: “People have been doing what they call ‘tasting’ since before I was posted to this base. I didn’t think it was a serious breach of regulations.”
A military tribunal did not agree, however, and this week suspended him from duty for five days. His fellow curry enthusiasts also received short suspensions.
Japan’s maritime SDF is proud of its connection to curry, which personnel eat every Friday. Packs of boil-in-the-bag “navy curry” are popular souvenirs and some appear on supermarket shelves.
Sailors in the imperial navy reportedly acquired a taste for the dish thanks to Anglo-Indian officers in the Royal Navy who brought curry powder to Japan after the country was forced to end almost three centuries of seclusion in the mid-1800s.
The earliest recipes appeared in Japanese cookbooks in 1872, and its modern-day incarnation, karē raisu (curry rice), is wildly popular among schoolchildren. And ravenous naval officers.