Historical Perspective

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Throughout its history Japan had experienced internal conflict as rival clans vied for control of the Island nation. Despite the existence of an Emperor beginning in 300 A.D. the real power largely were held in one of these clans. The head of most the powerful of the clans would be given the title "Shogun", meaning generalissimo. These rival clans had the Samurai at their disposal, these unswervingly loyal men followed the "Bushido", the way of the Warrior. Their code not only stressed loyalty and obedience to authority, but a stoic sense of honor that was above all else even life itself. This warrior code was to become the central character of Japanese culture in one form or another. Perhaps the most pivotal moment in Japan's early history was their defense against two Mongol invasions during the 13th century A.D. It owed more to the forces of nature then military prowess, but infused the Japanese with the idea that there exists a divine protection for their land, as both invasions were defeated by typhoons that destroyed the invading Mongol Armies. The typhoons would be called "Kamikaze" or divine wind.

Japan in its early history also derived much of it religious, cultural and governmental framework from China. Resentful of being spurned from being treated as equals by the Chinese, and worried of Korea as a staging ground for invasion from the mainland, Japan had become more and more inward looking. Other then a brief period of openness when the Portuguese first found their way to Japan. It would all but close its borders to outsiders until 1853 A.D. when Commodore Perry of the U.S. navy forced Japan to open trade relations. This was a wakeup call for Japan. It quickly modernized to become Asia's first industrialized nation. However, this also wetted Japan's imperialistic appetites. They began carving out parts of China and Korea for themselves and shocked the world when they defeated the Russian pacific fleet in 1905 A.D. Their growing power also lead to over-confidence leading to their participation in the Second World War against the U.S.A. This would be another pivotal moment in Japan's history when Japan was eventually forced to accept unconditional surrender in 1945 A.D. This lead to the demilitarization and democratizing of Japan. However, after the war, Japan quickly recovered. Today they are a major economic power in the world.

The Japanese people we know today however were not the original inhabitants. As in places all around the world, there were indigenous hunter-gatherers that had made its way to the Island of Japan in prehistoric times. These people were called the "Jomon" after the patterns found on the clay pottery found in archeological sites. These people are believed to be the distant ancestors of an ethnic minority in Japan called the "Ainu" that now inhabit the Northern Islands of Japan, mainly in Hokkaido. by 300 B.C. however a dramatic shift in the archeological evidence took place from these hunter-gatherer culture. It is speculated a new wave of immigrants from Korea arrived onto the Japanese islands that had been locked off from the mainland since the ice age. Everything from farming, architecture, metalwork, manufactured goods to culture and religions that reflect origins from Northern China and Korea mixed with some southern pacific elements began to emerge. This period is called the Yayoi period in Japanese history. It lasted until 250 A.D. It is during this time in 57 A.D. that Japan was first described by outside sources. Chinese sources described Japan as a collection of tribal communities that had some level of provincial organization, taxation, had master and vassal relationships between different groups, and worshipped a religion called Shinto. This or any connections that implied a Korean derivation, however contradicts Japanese traditions that saw their foundation as a unified state in 660 B.C. Also how much these later immigrants mixed with the indigenous Jomon culture is another controversial point in Japan's early history.

Regardless, the period from 300 A.D. and on, Japanese history is less uncertain. This period is called the Kofun period named after burial mounds that clan rulers were buried in. The Yamato clan claiming divine descent began the imperial dynasty that continues to occupy the thrown today. This clan would also establish the Yamato State by 500 A.D., which became synonymous with all of Japan as its rulers allied or suppressed other clan rulers and acquired lands. The Yamato State was centered at the southern region of today's Japan. Greater exchange between Japan and the mainland also occurred during this time, with the introduction of Buddhism, and government and cultural models based on Chinese Confucianism into Japan, including the adoption of the Chinese written language. Japanese rulers also began to establish a toehold on the continent at the southern tip of Korea. They sought confirmation of royal titles with the Chinese, and in turn the Chinese recognized Japanese control over these parts of Korea. Near the end of the Kofun period in 587 A.D. the Soga clan managed to install one of their own as Emperor within the Yamato State. The Japanese also began to assert themselves on equal footing with the Chinese at this time. The Japanese Emperor addressed an official correspondence to the Chinese Emperor with the greetings, "From the Son of Heaven in the Land of the Rising Sun to the Son of Heaven of the Land of the Setting Sun." It was at this time that Japan began to refer to itself by the name "Nihon", which means the sun source or from which the sun rises, from which the westernized named Japan is derived from. This move was greatly resented by the Chinese. Chinese influence however still continued to play a large influence on Japanese culture and infrastructure, and the Soga continued to model their nation within those guidelines. While influences by way of Korea was extinguished. It would however mark the time when Japan no longer accepted a subordinate position to the mainland powers. With threats of a Chinese invasion, Prince Naka and Nakatomi Kamatari (later to be awarded the surname Fujiwara for his service to the imperial family), seized control from the Soga clan in 645 A.D. They instituted wide reforms in law and land ownership, to gain greater control over Japan, and break the power of clan and hereditary landowners and reorganized the country into provinces. Japan saw several Empresses during this time but from 770 A.D. royal succession was restricted to males henceforth.

Samurai Armor of High Rank

In 710 A.D. the Nara period began when the capitol was moved to the city of Nara. It was customary in Japanese culture to move the Capitol after the death of an emperor, as it was believed that the death polluted the old capitol. Nara was styled after the Chinese Tang dynasty capitol of Chang'an. Nara became a thriving urban and business center, however the provinces began to decline. In order to address this local administration of the lands began to take hold over central land control. Universal conscription began to fall out in favor of local militias. The Capitol was again moved to Heian in 794 A.D., some twenty-six kilometers north of Nara to re-establish Imperial control. Ushering in the Heian period. The city would be renamed Kyoto (meaning Capitol City) by the end of the 11th century A.D. It was at this time that Japan began to write its own official histories, as well as, many of its other literary monuments. Buddhism also became the official state religion. During this era, the Japanese continued its subjugation of the indigenous peoples of Japan, Emperor Kammu was appointed Shogun to accomplish this task and by 801 A.D. gained total control of the main Japanese isle of Honshu. While Imperial succession was ensured much of the actual power was held by one of the noble families. The Fujiwara clan was to take control after Kammu's death in 806 A.D. With the Tang dynasty in decline in China, Chinese style central authority also became disfavored, and Japan turned inwards with the last official mission to China in 838 A.D. Despite the power struggles during this time, Japanese culture was flowering. The Chinese Kanji system which Japanese writing had depended on began to be supplemented with two phonetic scripts called Katakana and Hiragana, which gave spoken Japanese a written form. This also opened the door to court women to produce literary works as previous only males had been educated to use the Chinese Kanji system of writing. Some famous works during this time was the "Genji Monogatari", or The Tale of Genji and "Makura no Soshi", or The Pillow Book.

The growing decentralized nature of Japan, also saw the rise of a military class called the Samurai, who followed the Bushido. These samurai became the mainstay of provincial and local power holders, even civil and religious institutions had independent control of private samurai guard units to protect themselves. Several clans naturally arose to prominence. The period between the 8th century A.D. until the 12th century A.D. saw the Fujiwara, the Taira and the Minomoto clan vying for control and power over Japan and over one another. By 1185 the Minamoto clan emerged as strongest of the three, signaling the Kamakura period, named after their headquarters in Kamakura in the northern part of Japan's main island, south-west of modern Tokyo. This period essentially made official for the next 700 years where the Emperors based in Kyoto were no more then figureheads relegated to ceremonial functions. While civil, military, and judicial functions being controlled by the Samurai class, with the most powerful samurai clan being the de factor ruler. The head of which was given the title Shogun. The Minamoto did not continue to hold power for long, and by 1199 A.D. lost power to the Hojo Clan which was a branch of the Taira Clan. Under the Hojo clan the military governing body known as the bakufu in turn also became ineffectual making the Shogun title a mere figurehead also. The title was passed to many different people including members of the Fujiwara clan or even to Imperial Princes. Until in 1221 A.D. the Hojo clan that was supposed to be the official protector of the Imperial family went to war against them to regain power. However they managed to reform the governing body to allow other military lords to exercise judicial and legislative power at Kamakura with the Hojo presiding over a council of these lords. Military law was codified known as the "Joei" code and Japan became under official martial law.

KinKaku-Ji Temple
"The Golden Pavilion"

Scroll depicting
Samurai defenders during Mongol Invasion

In the late 13th century A.D. the Mongols who had established the Yuen Dynasty in China turned its attention towards Japan. It had demanded tribute from Japan but was steadfastly refused. The Yuen Emperor Kublai Khan ordered an invasion of Japan in 1274 A.D. consisting of 600 ships, and a force of 23000 troops of mixed Mongol, Chinese and Korean origins, along with siege engines and early rocket artillery. In battle these troops fought in close cavalry formations for which the Samurai were totally unaccustomed to. Who had always followed the strict Bushido code of honored single combat. The Japanese fought bravely but couldn't really defend themselves against this massive force fighting in a way alien to them. It was a miracle that after the first day of fighting that the typhoon swept in, and decimated the Mongol army camped aboard their ships. Seven years later the Mongols would attempt a second invasion, this time fighting lasted for seven weeks as the Japanese no longer stuck to their practice of single combat against these foreigners. Until again a typhoon struck, and destroyed the Mongol fleet. The Shinto priests attributed the Mongols defeat to the typhoon and pronounced its divine nature. But the war against with Mongols had cost a lot economically. There were not enough rewards to go around to the clans that helped contributed to the defense of Japan. Civil war eventually broke out. The Emperor Go-Daigo eventually emerged victorious over the previous Hojo government intent on reviving imperial authority and Confucian practices. But in turn was defeated by the Ashikaga clan in 1336 A.D. However Go-Daigo would flee the capitol establishing a separate Imperial court south, while Ashikaga clan installed their choice for emperor from a rival line. This duel existence of Imperial courts was to last for over the next 50 years.

Lengendary Swordsmen Miyamoto Musashi
"Musashi Tsukahara Shiai-zu"
by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

The Ashikaga clan ushered in the Muromachi period. The Ashikaga Shogunate becomes patrons of Zen Buddhism, and Japan develops economically and culturally. Trade with the Ming dynasty Chinese was established. However by the middle of the 16th century A.D. the Muromachi government lost control of Japan. Again provincial lords called "Daimyo" who had exerted the actual control over the regions began to fight with each other in what became known as the "Sengoku Jidai" or Age of the Civil Wars. It was also at this time, in 1542 A.D. that the first Portuguese traders and missionaries arrived in Japan. They introduced firearms and Christianity to Japan. Despite Buddhist oppositions, most of the western warlords welcomed Christianity in order that they could trade for military goods with the Portuguese. Oda Nobunaga emerged amongst the provincial warlord to overthrow the Muromachi government and made big strides in reunifying Japan. However in 1582 A.D. Nobunaga was assassinated. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who finally managed to completely reunify Japan, succeeded him. In order to gain absolute control, he destroyed many castles that had been built around the country during the Age of Civil Wars, and forbade the Samurai class from farming, and forced them to move into castle towns. Seeing Christians as a threat to his reunification process, he also began to expel Christians missionaries in 1587 A.D. Further conversions to Christianity were forbidden and the persecution intensified culminating with the execution of 26 Franciscans in 1597 A.D. as a warning. In 1592 A.D. Hideyoshi took aim at China. He invaded Korea and captured Seoul within a few weeks but was pushed back by Chinese and Korean forces a year later. He would continue to wage his war until 1598 A.D. when Japanese forces were forced to evacuate from Korea completely. He would die later that year to be succeeded by Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Sumo Wrestlers painted in Ukiyo-e style

Tokugawa Ieyasu establishes firm political and military power in 1600 A.D. seated in Edo (in modern day Tokyo) and appointed Shogun in 1603 A.D. by the emperor. Ieyasu was able to redistribute the wealth he acquired in a way as to satisfy the Daimyos but also instituted a practice that required them to spend every other year at Edo. Which meant a huge financial burden for the Daimyos and moderated their power at home. Ieyasu also promoted trade with the English and the Dutch. However he continued the persecution and suppression of Christianity within his realm. He was so successful in quashing his rivals that after his death his successors had no serious rivals to face for the next 250 years. The samurai class began to branch out from martial arts to the appreciation and practice of the finer Japanese arts. In 1633 A.D. Shogun Iemitsu instituted an isolationist policy and forbade Japanese from travelling abroad, and by 1639 A.D. all but closed off Japan to foreign influence and trade with the exception of the port of Nagasaki. Foreign books were banned and the trade allowed through Nagasaki was extremely limited and restricted to minor trade with China and the Dutch. Despite the isolation Japan's domestic trade and culture flourished and new forms of Art like Kabuki and Ukiyo-e developed among the commoners. Japanese society also became more firmly entrenched in a caste system where social classes were not allowed to change from one to the other. The Samurai class was at the top, followed by peasants, artisans and merchants and the outcast class known as the "eta" at the bottom. Even though the Tokugawa government remained stable for centuries it had also become weakened. Combined with natural disasters that led to worsening financial conditions and social unrest. By the end of the 18th century A.D. however external pressures from foreign powers wishing to establish trade culminated with the second arrival of Commodore Perry in 1854 A.D. of the U.S. navy who finally forced open Japan to international trade. Anti-government sentiments continued to grow and people even the conservatives eventually recognizing the advantages of western science and military innovations. Thus in 1867 A.D. the Tokugawa government fell and Imperial power was restored under Emperor Meiji. This period ushered in the Meiji restoration and the modernization of Japan.

The caste system was abolished, and a democratic government was established but served under the Emperor. Economic, military and educational reforms were vigorously pursued and structured after western models to close the gap between Japan and western nations. Taking what were at the time the best western models in each area at the time. For example using Prussia as a model for their military and Britain for their navy. Emperor worship was also increasingly emphasized to bring focus to the nation. When the transformation was complete, Japan again turned its attention on to the mainland. Conflicting interests in Korea between Japan and China lead to the Sino-Japanese War in 1894 A.D. where China was forced to ceed Taiwan over to the Japanese. Western intervention had actually forced Japan to return some captured territory, so Japan continued to intensify military development. Then in 1904 A.D. conflicts with Russia developed over Korea and Manchuria. In a stunning victory, Japan defeated the Russian's pacific fleet gaining new territory over the Russian and finally gained some international respect. In 1910 A.D. Japan went on to annexed Korea completely. These early military successes fueled Japan's imperialistic appetite and nationalism.

Himeji Castle

In the First World War Japan joined with the allied powers and played a minor role in fighting German colonial forces in East Asia, but emerged as a major player in the League of Nations. However Japan's proposal to amend a racial equality clause was rejected with the addition of an immigration ban against Japanese to the U.S. This fueled anti-western sentiments in Japan. The period after World War One, saw Japan's economic condition suffer as a result of the world wide economic depression, and the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 A.D. added to the problem. The military began to take control of the government by assassinating political enemies and installing military personnel into government posts, including the top civil government prime ministerial position. In 1931 A.D. Japan seized control of Manchuria and installed a puppet government over a newly declared independent state of Manchukuo, and began bombing Shanghai, China to protect Japanese residents from anti-Japanese movements. In 1933 A.D. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations after it was harshly criticize for its actions in China. By 1937 A.D. more or less completely occupied the Chinese coast and committed serious war atrocities on the Chinese population especially during the fall of the Chinese Capitol of Nanking. However the Chinese government never surrendered and the war melded into the Second World War. Japan sided with the Axis powers and began to expand into the Asian mainland. The western allies imposed an oil embargo on Japan to stall Japan's advance. But this lead Japan to make an all out attack on the U.S. in 1941 A.D. at Pearl Harbor. Initially a great success for the Japanese. The Japanese Army would occupy territory from the borders of India to the Pacific Islands. The war would however eventually lead to Japan's defeat by the hands of the Americans in 1945 A.D The Japanese fought every inch of the way spurred on by a revived Bushido code of death before dishonor. They were finallyforced to face unavoidable defeat and unconditional surrender when two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima annihilated these two cities in an instant.

Flagship of Japanese navy during WW2

After the Second World War, Japan was devastated. The American, with the exception of Kyoto destroyed almost all of Japan's major urban centers. Japan was placed under military occupation by General MacArthur, this was to last until 1952 A.D. Japan had also lost all territory it had acquired since 1894 A.D. and lost the Kuriles to the Soviet Union. Okinawa was not returned to Japan until 1972 A.D. The Japanese were demilitarized and a new constitution forbidding them from ever waging war was imposed. Emperor worship was abolished, and his power was reduced to that of a figurehead. However the Americans helped Japan to rebuild, and when the American occupation was over, Japan emerged as a thriving industrial nation once again. Japan was allowed to re-establish a military but only for self-defense. The Western allies especially the Americans used it as a base to contain the spread of Communism on the Asian mainland. After the Korean War Japan's economy flourished, gaining significant grounds in the industrial sectors especially in the area of automobiles. However after 1973 oil crisis they branched out and refocused into the world of High Tech, developing many advances in robotics and consumer electronics.

"Bullet Train"
Ultra high-speed Rail Service known as the Shinkanzen

Overall Strategy for Players Using Japan

Scene from "47 Ronin"
by Utagawa Kunisada
Japan as a civilization in Rise of Nations is ideal for mid to late game action. Their Bushi/Spearmen line of unique units will be well suited as a defensive force to ward of attacks from typical enemy rush units of their age. They are superior to other heavy infantry in terms of attack but lack mobility. This extends into the Gunpowder age with the appearance of the Samurai unique unit. If the player using the Japanese manages to arrive in this age before others they should be able to use these units as affective offensive units, which continue to be useful as gun samurai in its offensive stance. Although if others manages to beat you to the gunpowder age, it may not be advisable to go on the offensive with non-gunpowder wielding troops.

The plunder bonus makes it worthwhile for the Japanese to lay waste to enemy assets without too much concern for capturing them since you will benefit from them either way, if you keep them or destroy them. So bring along seige units to take them out of your worry, and not wait for that pesky asssimilation period to take hold. Just bank that resource and build your own buildings with the spoils of war. Conversely the Japanese produces no plunder for the enemy. This maybe a useful if one wants to use a scourched earth policy to deny the enemy of the use of captured buildings by finishing off a building yourself, which wont accidently produce plunder for your opponent. In any event it will be an advantage to not give any additional benefit to your enemies whenever they destroy one of your buildings. No more added insult to your injury.

At sea the Japanese recieve a bonus to range and line of sight. This will make the Japanese navy very effective fighting vessel, against other enemy ships but also have the reach to take out more coastal assets of the enemy that maybe trying to stay out of your naval bombardment's range. In sea maps the Japanese should take advantage of this fact to produce a good amount of ships to take out enemy cities and defenses from a safe distance out in the oceans. This naval advantage will also be useful to acheive naval dominance if the Japanese player produces a naval force en-masse to take advantage of its range and thus ability to bring greater number of units to bare on a single target.

Finally the Japanese has a metal gathering bonus. This will help the player to produce the navy needed in the later ages to achieve naval superiority. It will also help produce the other non-naval units available in the mid to late ages in sufficient quantities or a total land and air force en-masse, which will likely be needed as the Japanese do not have any military advantages inherent in its unhique units after the Enlightenment age.

Japan as modelled in Rise of Nations

Unique units

  • Heavy Infantry Line
Ashigaru Spearmen (Ancient Age)

Bushi (Classical Age)

Elite Bushi (Medieval Age)

Samurai (Gunpowder Age)
Sword Infantry replacement for early gunpowder infantry

Gun Samurai (Enlightenment Age)

Unique powers (Power of Honor)

  • Farms 50% cheaper, Farms and Fishermen produce +25% resources
  • Build aircraft carriers 33% faster and ships are 10% cheaper
  • Barrack Units do 5% extra damage vs buildings for each Age plus Military research
  • Barrack Units built 10% faster, 7% cheaper,for each Age plus Military research

Written By: One Dead Angel


Lonely Planet, Japan-guide.com, Countryreports.org, World of the Samurai, Washington State University.