Before the Japanese Economic Crash at the end of the '90s, the U.S. pretty much expected that Japan would be their new Overlords in a decade or two. They were seen as hardworking to the point of being inhuman, and proficient in technology and business; it's as if they were an entire country of supernerds. (It was only later we learned about theirbrand of nerds.)
The U.S. was prepared, oh yes. A large number of movies and shows set Twenty Minutes into the Future or later had the U.S. adopting Yen, or all businesses owned by the Japanese.
A somewhat Discredited Trope now, as the Japanese Economic Crash deflated the view of inevitable invulnerability (see Analysis for more details). On the flip side, however, several given American industries (especially automobile manufacture) have come under Japanese dominance so thoroughly by the end of the first decade of the 21st century as to give credence to at least some of the trope's original inspiration, that of the potential superiorities of classically group-focused Japanese business models to more individualist-minded American ones.
Today, the Western mindset is that China will take over the world. The reason is somewhat simpler: the advantage of sheer numbers, and the economic and industrial power that comes with it. With this in mind, it is of note that India is gaining on them, and has already begun pulling ahead in numerous high technology races. And the American economy remains the largest in the world, even after the late-2000s "Great Recession."
This is a Western trope, not an anime trope.note That would be this trope.Sub-Trope of Take Over the World. See also Yellow Peril, China Takes Over the World and America Takes Over the World.
The Cyberpunk genre was also, in part, a result of this trope, with Japanese technological dominance often playing an important role in early cyberpunk works.
And in Marvel 2099, Stark Industries has become Stark-Fujikawa. This was later toyed with in Present DayIron Man, most notably with Love Interest Rumiko Fujikawa, whose father briefly owned Stark Industries while Tony was believed dead.
The Secret of The Swordfish (the first book of the Blake and Mortimer series) has the Yellow Empire as antagonist. It is a Tibetan expy of Imperial Japan, with soldiers wearing Japanese-like uniforms and using German weapons. They even manage to conquer most of the world in the beginning of the story.
In one chapter of The Sandman, Dream has been given the key to Hell, and envoys from multiple pantheons approach him to obtain dominion over it. The Japanese envoy is Susano-o, who presents it as a corporate takeover (their pantheon apparently runs multiple hells, the Christian one would be a sizeable addition).
Matt: Yup. N went and fucked with Japan, you don't just go and fuck with Japan. I've been telling you, man. Nobody just goes and fucks with Japan-
Alien: The un-named Mega Corp. referred to as 'the Company' is named "Weyland-Yutani," a fusion of a Western and an Eastern name. Apparently it was originally meant to be Leyland-Toyota, representing the merger of Britain's then-nationalised motor industry (British Leyland) with a Japanese giant. This was changed later on for trademark reasons.
In Back To The Future Part II, Marty works for a man called Fujitsu and calls him "Fujitsu-san."note Although this is the name of a Japanese company (short for "Fuji Telecommunications Equipment"), and not an actual Japanese name. The filmmakers state on the DVD that they based their vision of 2015 in part on the assumption that Japan would take over the world and heavily influence American culture. In the third film, 1950s Doc Brown is incredulous when Marty tells him "all the best stuff comes from Japan."
Ridley Scott's stylish but dubious 1989 action film Black Rain, in which a tough New York policeman is sent to Japan after capturing a rogue Yakuza in New York. The film includes an exchange in which a Japanese cop tells his US counterpart, played by Michael Douglas, that "We make the machines, we build the future, we won the peace." Douglas' character retorts "And if even one of you guys had an original idea, you'd be too up-tight to pull it out of your ass!"
The movie Blade Runner, though it was a more general "Asia takes over the world." Noodle shops litter the street and gigantic animated Coca-Cola marquees feature smiling geishas. Word Of God says that this was supposed to show that most of the more affluent (i.e. white) population of America had already left Earth for the offworld colonies, and a lot of poor Asians who had also been left behind had subsequently immigrated. So this is more a case of "Asia takes over the world because no one else wants it".
In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, the Japan of the 23rd Century is described as an economic monolith that not only buys out other countries, but also entire continents. The action of the film is driven by three time travellers who go to mid-Nineties Japan to erase Godzilla from history, put a more destructive monster in its place, and reduce Japan to a nuclear slag heap before it can rise.
Gung Ho, where Japanese businessmen are portrayed as cartoonishly repressed and professional, while Americans are cartoonishly undisciplined and ineffective. Michael Keaton makes a speech toward the end stating that Japan was "kicking America's butt," but the film ultimately pushes an Aesop of compromise and working together.
In Inception, the protagonists are hired by a Japanese businessman to bring about the destruction of a large, monopolistic corporation to which said businessman's company is the sole competitor. The plan was successful.
In Moon, Japan does not take over the world. Korea does.
In Other Peoples Money, Lawrence Garfield, head of Garfield Investments, said he was encouraging his employees to learn Japanese out of fear of the trope.
The film adaptation of Rising Sun has Sean Connery's character is constantly talking about how Japanese culture is superior to the West, and a Japanese takeover of a large American corporation sits at the heart of the plot. The story also portrays powerful Japanese businessmen as shadowy, decadent and corrupt.
This trope was invoked while designing the USS Excelsior for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The Excelsior was a brand-new bleeding edge prototype that threatened to replace the Enterprise, her crew, and her Iowa-born-and-bred American captain as Starfleet's finest. In order to give off this feeling, it was designed to look as if the Enterprise was designed by the Japanese.
William Gibson's trilogy beginning with Neuromancer. Japanese culture dominates the world, most of the biggest corporations are Japanese, and the Yakuza is a global player. Consequently, practically the entire subsequent genre of Cyber Punk has elements of this.
His subsequent Bridge Trilogy, set mostly in the earthquake-ravaged cities of San Francisco and Tokyo, the latter rebuilt using self-constructing nanotech materials, also had quite a bit of this (as well as the China variant), despite having been written during the 1990s. This is partly due to the Tokyo setting, though, and much less pronounced in the Bay Bridge scenes.
The book version of Sphere heavily implies a very heavy influence between the West and Japan in the time-lost spacecraft's own prior timeline, which would be the future for the world at present in the book.
"[The warden of the prison] worked for Sony. He had always worked for Sony."
Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor focuses on a war between Japan and the US, instigated by a Japanese corporate executive as part of a plan to dominate the Pacific region. It concludes with a rogue Japanese pilot who's son was killed in the war crashes an (otherwise empty) commercial airliner into the Capitol building during a joint session of the House and Senate for inaugurating Jack Ryan as Vice President, with the President, Cabinet, and entire Supreme Court present.Harsher in Hindsight with the events of September 11th, 2001.
Robert Silverberg's Hot Sky At Midnight, also written in 1994. In a dystopian future where the Earth's climate has been damaged beyond all repair, two Japanese mega-corps have taken over the world economy and are battling for supremacy: Samurai Industries, based out of Tokyo, and Kyocera-Merck, based out of Kyoto. Most workers are stuck in their company, hoping for a job that has "slope" to a better grade (as in, pay grade). Positions within the company hierarchy are highly stratified, with one's level of clearance determined by position; asking questions beyond your grade is bad for your career health. These positions are known as "Salaryman X", with X being a number (a lower number means a higher rank). Interestingly, just having a "Japanese" name, or being part Japanese, does not guarantee any favourable position; only the "purest" and most dedicated are worthy to ascend the ranks.
In Snow Crash, a collapse of the world economy has made Japan (Nippon) a major player in a very fragmented, franchised world government.
Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle could be seen as both an Ur Example of this and a sort of inversion; instead of depicting a future of Japanese dominance it shows an alternate present (when the book was written) where the Axis won World War II and the world is split between Germany and Japan.
One of the covers from the 80s (very obviously post-Blade Runner) has a fantastic punny tagline on a Japanese liquor billboard: "The spirit that conquered the world."
Kim Newman's Dark Future for the Games Workshopsetting invoke this in the form of the GenTech, a Japanese-Korean conglomerate headed by the mysterious Dr. Zarathustra and producing things for virtually every purpose from Paradise, its home appliances and decoration subsidiary through to BioDiv, their genetics and cybernetics research department who can give you bigger breasts, better highs, up to five new dentitions pre-implanted or augment your body to let shrug off bullet wounds and tear open tanks.
In Max Headroom, the Zik-Zak corporation, which more or less runs the world, is Japanese. Late in the series, its Board of Directors are revealed to be Yakuza.
Due to the major influence of Cyber Punk, Shadowrun is set in a world where this is true. The entire world converting to "Nu-Yen" as a global currency. Japan also controls a significant portion of California Free State, and seems to have fingers in a lot of pies.
This became gradually less true as the Meta Plot carried on. Japan lost their hold in California, the occupation of the Philippines is being upset by a Great Dragon and one of their Megacorps relocated their headquarters to Russia. While nuyen is still the currency of choice for shadowrunners due to the setting being in Seattle, many other currencies such as UCAS dollars have become more prominent.
Cyberpunk 2020 also has Japan as the (economically) most powerful country of the near future, with Zaibatsu-like megacorporations having a hold in all markets and vast corporate armies protecting Japanese assets.
This was popular enough for a while that GURPS decided to play with it; one of the alternate earths in ''GURPS Alternate Earths I" was Shikaku-Mon, whose Japanese had taken over the world militarily rather than economically (after converting to Catholicism early and becoming a colonial power), but which still invoked many of the standard Cyber Punk tropes.
TORG dealt with multiple dimensions, each representing a different genre, invading different parts of modern-day Earth. Japan was invaded by the "Nippon Tech" realm, which conducted its invasion through economics and espionage rather than the military invasion conducted by some of the other realms. Basically, the Nippon Tech realm was a direct invocation of this trope, and was heavily influenced by movies such as Blade Runner and Black Sun.
Kind of used in BattleTech. Japan as a nation (along with pretty much every modern day nation) no longer exists, thanks to the rise of interstellar empires, but the most powerful military belongs to the Japanese influenced Draconis Combine. Also of note is that said power comes from the nation's military, rather than economy, and culturally, it's closer to feudal Japan than modern day Japan.
The Video Games industry can be seen as a microcosm of this trope, as Japan pretty much dominated the worldwide video game industry throughout the 1980s to 1990s up until the early 2000s.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a Period Piece set in The Eighties and invokes this trope as a historical reference in an in-game commercial of a compact car called "Maibatsu Thunder" and then with another commercial telling people to buy true American muscle instead of Japanese compacts. On the other end of the scale is the "Maibatsu Monstrosity", which is apparently both amphibious and equipped to travel across arctic tundra.
Similarly, in Grand Theft Auto II, the largest of the various organizations the player can take missions from is Zaibatsu (presented as the name of a specific Mega Corp., not a generic noun).
While it is a Japanese game developed by a Japanese team and written by a Japanese writer, the treatment of the Tokugawa Corporation in Policenauts is obviously supposed to resemble the way this trope was used in American action movies of the era, rather than Creator Provincialism. (The game is a pastiche of American buddy cop movies.)
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 has the Empire of the Rising Sun as one of three playable factions, and arms them with easily the most advanced and versatile, albeit expensive, technology and weapons among the three.
They actually do this in their campaign ending, but the Uprising expansion revealed that it was non-canon, and canonically the Allies won.
It is implied that at the very least, Japan will rise to a permanent seat in the Security Council of the UN in one of the endings of Devil Survivor. Justified, as demon power would imply a major power shift in global economics.
You can play as Japan in the Civilization series and literally take over the world by means of a Conquest or Domination victory. The game encourages you to do it, especially in V, where your soldiers attack at max strength even when damaged. Their Samurais are also a threat.
The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and Japan's aggression against China and the rest of southeast Asia before and during World War II. A case of Truth in Television. Well Japan did not 'hold' its territories for a long period of time, as the US military pushed out the Japanese from the pacific holdings and the rest of the allies were fighting conventional/guerilla/etc wars....
Subverting this trope even more is the fact that Japan currently has no place (some would say allowed no place) in the United Nations Security Council, which consists of countries considered to have the greatest military strength within the global community.
On the other hand, Japan is currently tied with Brazil for holding a seat on the Security Council the most number of times (20) in its history outside of the five permanent members (the major Allied powers of World War II and their successors). Most of this, though, is with the assistance of the United States.
Look around you. There's a strong chance that more than half of the appliances around you have Japanese names. Furthermore, if you're a member of Generation X or Generation Y, you've been exposed to (if not an outright fan of) something with Japanese roots (Power Rangers,Sailor Moon,Pokémon, any other anime and many video game series). Japan may have never had an actual empire like the British or Spanish, but should Japan just come to a screeching halt, most other countries would feel it.