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Government type Absolute Monarchy
Ruling party Shogunate Faction(Reactionary)
Capital Edo (ID 1649)
Population 7.08 million
Primary culture Japanese
Literacy 40%
National value Order
Tech school Uncivilized nation
Status Uncivilized
Japan next to Korea and China

During the time period of Victoria 2 Japan ended centuries of isolation and westernized to join the world stage. Japan is considered by many to be the Tutorial Island of Victoria 2, at least in terms of uncivilized nations. Regardless, there are a few considerations a player choosing Japan will want to keep in mind:

Pros and Cons

Advantages to playing Japan:

  1. Japan has an extremely high literacy rate right at the start of the game, at 40%. In fact, it's so high that it's only 2% lower than the United States in 1836. For an uncivilized nation, this is extremely good as it allows Japan to carry out the westernization reforms quicker than any other uncivilized nation except Hawaii. (For comparison, the next best is Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi at 30%. Most are less than 10%.)
  2. Not only does Japan get a boost to research thanks to its literacy, but they also have access to one of two unique decisions: Early Meiji Restoration and The Meiji Restoration, the latter Japan can only enact if they are sphered by a Great Power. These decisions give Japan a significant boost to research points.
  3. Japan is pretty isolated from the rest of the world. The only nations that might pose a threat are China China, Russia Russia, and the United Kingdom United Kingdom. Poor invasion AI (i.e. tiny, unescorted transport fleets) makes the USA USA little more than a nuisance early on, while the Netherlands Netherlands and Spain Spain can safely be ignored.
  4. Thanks to their literacy rate and decent population base, Japan has the potential to become a Great Power within a few years (if not less) of westernizing.
  5. Japan is an island nation. Anyone who wants to come knocking on their door will have to conduct a sea invasion. The AI is not that bright when it comes to beach landings.
  6. There are a lot of expansion possibilities thanks to Japan's geographic location. Of note are Korea, Brunei, Johore, Dai Nam, and Siam.

Disadvantages to playing Japan:

  1. Even though Russia starts with an extremely lousy literacy rate, they start the game already westernized. An early war with them will not go well for Japan.
  2. Japan starts only being able to train Irregulars. Without grabbing the reform that allows Infantry, Japan will struggle against the might of a mostly-unified China when trying to free/conquer Korea Korea.
  3. Even though the Early Meiji Restoration decision carries hefty bonuses, it also jacks up their militancy rate to astronomical levels. A lost war against the horde of Reactionaries that come will result in all westernization progress lost.

Early Meiji Restoration vs Meiji Restoration

The Meiji Restoration was the period after the Boshin War, when the Emperor Meiji enacted various social and military reforms to better emulate their European and American peers. This event was quite possibly one of the most significant in Japan's history, as it not only unified the nation (thanks to the Emperor winning the Boshin War, abolishing the shogunate and restoring effective imperial rule) but it also turned a relatively-backward army into a modern military. The effect of such reforms would be massive industrialization and military conquests. By the beginning of World War II, Japan was a superpower in its own right. However, Victoria 2 does not accurately model the struggles of the Boshin War (unless a mod such as New Nations Mod or A Pop Divided is installed), and the Meiji Restoration is relegated to just a decision that gives free research points.

Early Meiji Restoration

When starting in 1836, the only option for Japan is Early Meiji Restoration, due to the fact that they aren't in any power's sphere of influence. The difference between the Early Meiji and the normal Meiji is that the Early Meiji Restoration gives Land Reform for free, at the cost of 7 militancy for Conservatives, 9 militancy for Reactionaries, and 0.5 militancy for Liberals. The normal Meiji Restoration does not give Land Reform, but also does not give militancy either.

Meiji Restoration

One needs to wait to a Great Power spheres Japan. It is worth considering, as the early version gives a huge amount of militancy.

When starting in 1861, Japan is already within the United States' sphere of influence, so taking the normal Meiji Restoration decision is a no-brainer. This will give Japan enough research points to take Land Reform, or wait until one of the 20% reforms is available.

Regardless of whichever decision Japan takes, they will receive 5 years worth of research points and 10 prestige.

The Road to Westernization

Westernizing is a long and frustrating road. Thankfully, the Japanese have literacy coming out of their ears. This literacy translates directly into more research points a day than any other uncivilized nation. Regardless, even more research is better. Turning on the National Focus to Encourage Clergy in the highest population regions will speed this process along quite nicely. Once the Clergy population hits 2%, move on to the next region. Other uncivilized nations will need to wait until 4% for the maximum literacy benefit, but Japan is already equal to the United States right out of the box, and leagues ahead of Russia. The one thing Japan doesn't have is the multiple National Focuses that civilized nations get, so moving the National Focus from region to region once the population count reaches 2% will do more good than waiting for a single region to hit 4%.

In regards to westernization reforms, in 1836, Japan needs just one thing right away: Infantry. Taking Imported Weapons when it becomes available will greatly aid Japan's conquest of Southeast Asia. Infantry is also vitally important if the choice to annex Korea is made. After this, the reforms become much more situational. Land Reform is always a good choice when hurting for money, and Imported Ships will allow the construction of the vital Naval Bases needed to repair the transport ships Japan needs to transport their troops. The one thing that is not suggested, however, is Reformed System (Education). Japan already has literacy coming out of the yin-yang, so this reform is pretty worthless, especially considering westernized nations will get Enlightenment Philosophy to aid in their research. If starting in 1861, Japan will have enough reforms to be at 80% westernized, with the ability to pick up Land Reform for free thanks to the Meiji Restoration. From there, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to civilization.

With the Heart of Darkness expansion there are several important changes to Westernization. The most salient for Japan is the ability of uncivilized nations to acquire research points through conquest. The amount gained is further modified by taking certain military advances. The amount of research gained varies, but is often enough to select one or even two reforms. This means that an aggressive and militaristic Japan can under these rules westernize faster than ever through two or three wars with its weaker neighbors. Of course, this can run the risk of Great Power interference if in the course of these wars Japan's infamy spikes too high.

Conquest of the Asian World

There are a LOT of targets for Japan. Just be mindful that all conquests as an uncivilized nation will make the new regions into full states, dragging their awesome literacy down the hole (but, on the flip side, making them available for building factories later). However, wait too long and the targets will be gobbled up by the Great Powers, either through diplomacy or through the sword. The following is a list of excellent targets to go after:

  • Brunei Brunei: Brunei is an easy nation to annex, and is often the first to be annexed by Japan. It may not have much early on, but later in the game Brunei becomes one of the most important regions in Asia thanks to the deposits of Oil it holds. The neighboring colonizable provinces also hold Oil, but will almost always be gobbled up by the Dutch. Taking Brunei early on will prevent the Netherlands from gaining a monopoly on this precious resource in the region.
  • Johore Johore: Everyone loves Johore. What more could a nation ask for from a region chock full of Precious Metals? Unfortunately, Johore borders the United Kingdom, and the UK will likely go to war with Japan to claim the region for their own. Keeping relations with the UK high can prevent an early disaster.
  • Siam Siam: Siam doesn't really have much in the way of resources in its coastal provinces, and is too big to annex outright, but the Chang Mai region is absolutely packed with Opium, a precious resource to keep their Clerks and Capitalists happy. Obtaining Chang Mai is easy enough, but will require two separate Acquire State CBs to get a coastal route to it, for easy troop access.
  • Dai Nam Dai Nam/Cambodia Cambodia: Dai Nam has Cambodia as a puppet, and often allies itself with China, making conquest pretty hellish. However, the rewards of winning such a war are valuable stocks of Tropical Wood, which will later turn into the extremely valuable Rubber resource.
  • Korea: Taking the historical path of conquest will net Japan both a sizable population from which they can build more brigades from, as well as more Iron. The disadvantages to a Korean conquest are two-fold: China and militancy. Korea starts the game as a ally of China, so China should be neutral in Japanese-Korean War. Once Korea is annexed, the second problem becomes crystal clear: Nobody there likes the Japanese. Expect tons of rebellions and a hefty Korean Liberation movement. It does, however, give Japan a land route into Manchuria and Russia, should the Japanese decide to continue their historical conquests.
  • China/Chinese Substates: It may be crazy and suicidal, and breaking the back of the Big Dog of East Asia will be extremely tough, but the rewards are astronomical. First, and foremost, if China westernizes, it will automatically annex any substate it has. Removing said substates from China's influence will reduce their land capacity which, in turn, will result in a much slower Chinese rise to Great Power. Second, the population of the Chinese regions is second to none. Japan can field tons of brigades from a single conquered region. Third, the resources of quite a few Chinese regions far outstrip Japan's own. In particular, Tea and Silk are in absolute abundance in the coastal provinces, and the inland Shanxi is stuffed full of coal and three and a half million labourers to work the mines.
  • Arabian Peninsula: Crazy? Possibly. Lucrative? Absolutely. Taking the Arabian nations early on, when they are ignored by the rest of the world, will result in a massive monopoly of Oil later in the game, a monopoly that only the USA can match. Not only does an Arabian conquest give Japan lots of Oil, but it will also help their eventual diplomatic influence with Egypt, due to sharing borders, when trying to build the Suez Canal. Oman's African provinces will also give access to the interior of Africa for later colonization.
  • Hawaii Hawaii: Taking Hawaii will prevent the USA from annexing it later on. There is no other reward for a Hawaiian conquest than to throw a monkey wrench into the plans of the US, but this is a huge reward on its own. Leaving Hawaii alone will result in the US steamrolling through Oceania with their colonists. Prevent this from happening.
  • Spanish Philippines Philippines: Spain usually remains in control of the Philippines throughout the game, but it falls behind the other European powers and has a minimal military presence in the archipelago. The problem is they are often sphered by a European Great Power, but if it is France France, as it often is, they don't have a major presence in East Asia so they should not be a threat. The Philippines are divided into three regions and mainly contain grain and iron in the way of resources, but could boost your population and serve as a base for expansion further south into southeast Asia.

Empire of the Modernized Sun

Once Japan has properly westernized, which shouldn't take more than the 1860s if starting in 1836, the game becomes pretty standard. Don't be surprised if Japan becomes a Great Power right out of the box thanks to their huge literacy rate helping with the promotion of Capitalists and the building of factories. However, there are still some routes Japan can take:

  • Colonization: Seeing "Japanese Africa" on the map is an extremely rare sight, but can be done. It just requires some single-minded research focus toward Medicine, Machine Guns, and Nationalism & Imperialism. A little luck also helps, as the great European nations will likely halt their attempts at colonization if they are involved in a big war. Taking Mombasa from Oman/Zanzibar will aid the colonization effort. If dreams of a Japanese Africa seem dashed, all of Oceania is still their playground. While not as lucrative as Africa, Oceania will provide plenty of prestige to a colonizing Japan.
  • Monopolize the Canals: If colonization isn't in Japan's near future, they can rush toward the techs required for building the Suez and Panama Canal. Specifically, Iron Steamers, Inorganic Chemistry, and Interchangeable Parts (and Medicine for the Panama Canal). Don't even bother with the Kiel Canal; Prussia/North German Federation has a stranglehold on it, and the last thing Japan needs is a border with the biggest European nations in the world. Diplomatic influence for Panama is easy enough to get (the US usually ignores Colombia), but expect an all out brawl on the diplomacy table from the European nations for diplomatic control of Egypt. If it seems impossible to get control of Egypt through diplomacy, then conquest of the Dumyat region will fulfill this requirement quite nicely. Just don't expect the European nations to take kindly to it.
  • Start the Russo-Japanese War: By the time Japan westernizes, Russia will be leagues ahead of them in technology. However, thanks to their poor literacy rate (one of the worst in a civilized nation), Russia will lag behind during the late game. Exploit this for all its worth and reclaim the Japanese cores on Sakhalin and Hokkaido. A war with one of the largest nations on Earth will require a lot of tactics and planning, but if Japan can beat down the massive mobilized army, Russia will eventually collapse under its own weight. A previous war against China can help prepare Japan with knowledge of how to beat down a bigger nation. Just remember to build up a strong navy; Russia can't invade Japan if their ships are still stuck in port.

Heart of Darkness

Japan doesn't play all that differently in Heart of Darkness as opposed to A House Divided, but there are a few notable exceptions:

  1. Korea is no longer a puppet state, allowing an early Japanese conquest without having to deal with China. Be warned, however, that Koreans are extremely militant, and will form an extremely large Liberation Movement. This might not seem all that bad, except that these movements increase flashpoint tension, leading inevitably to a crisis. Expect to get into a long and drawn out crisis with another Great Power just to retain control of the Korean Peninsula. The lesser uncivilized nations in Southeast Asia, on the other hand, don't have enough population to really trigger a crisis.
  2. The technologies required to colonize have changed. Prophylaxis against Malaria invention is still in the Medicine tech, but the new ones are Mission to Civilize (State & Government) and Colonial Negotiations (Breech-Loaded Rifles), meaning that colonization can, in theory, come earlier for Japan than in A House Divided. If Japan is quick and focused single-minded on these colonization inventions, they have a good chance of grabbing Shumshu before the Russians do. Unfortunately, Sakhalin has a life rating of 35, so expect Russia to grab it right off the bat. Starting out in 1861 will allow Japan to westernize almost immediately, allowing them to snatch up either of these regions. Just be mindful that colony points are based on the size of a nation's navy and naval bases. Grabbing Borneo before the Netherlands does will yield oil and a little rubber a few decades later when the requisite techs are researched.
  3. The ticking war score system will allow Japan to reclaim Sakhalin and Hokkaido without ever setting foot on Russia proper. They will need to build a sizeable fleet to fight off any sea invasions and strait crossings, however.
  4. Uncivilized nations have the ability to gain copious amounts of research points from conquering. Acquire State and Conquest both work for the purpose of getting research points. The amount gained is also increased by some military reforms. This will allow Japan to westernize even quicker if they are war-like (which they should be). Just be mindful about the infamy limit and the fact that only 25,000 research points can be stockpiled (when uncivilized).