The first Japanese ground troops to be deployed on peacekeeping duties to Iraq have arrived in Kuwait.
Advance troops are already installed in southern Iraq
The group of about 80 troops left Japan on Tuesday bound for Kuwait, where they will acclimatise before continuing to southern Iraq.
They will join a small number of reconnaissance troops already in Iraq.
The move is controversial because critics argue it could violate Japan's pacifist constitution if the troops are drawn into combat.
The departure of the main ground contingent follows the approval of the lower house of parliament last Saturday.
PACIFISM UNDER THREAT?
Japan's constitution renounces the use of force
This has been stretched to allow self-defence troops
1992 law allowed troops to join UN and relief work overseas
2003 law said troops could go to non-combat zones in Iraq
PM Koizumi wants to give Japan even greater powers
It commits Japanese troops to a zone where combat is continuing for the first time since World War II. The troops are due to help provide clean water and infrastructure to the southern Iraqi town of Samawah.
As they left their base on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, the troops were given a banner-waving send-off by families and military members.
The unit's commander, Colonel Yasushi Kiyota, told reporters the troops would "carry out our mission for the Iraqi people and make efforts to bring stability to the world".
Opinion polls suggest that about half of the Japanese public is currently opposed to the deployment.
Japan's constitution prohibits the use of force in international disputes, but the Japanese Government argues the country is entitled to exercise self-defence and the troops will be able to return fire if they are attacked.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has argued that the mission is necessary to bolster Japan's role in the international community.
A total of about 1,000 Japanese troops - 600 main ground units and 400 air force and naval logistical support units - are expected in Iraq by March.