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"Pearl Harbor didn't work out so good, so we got you with tape decks."
Mr. Takagi, Die Hard
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In The '80s and the early '90s, Americans pretty much expected that Japan would be their new overlords in a decade or two. While other nations were too busy worrying about the Cold War and trying to dominate the world militarily, Japan was quietly taking over the business sector with a seemingly inhuman affinity for technology and a hive-like dedication to work. It seemed that, no matter what we did, we'd all soon wind up working for the Japanese.

As a result, a large number of media created in the 1980s and 1990s, set 20 Minutes into the Future or later, had the U.S. being dominated by Japanese companies and culture. This trope was particularly prominent in Cyberpunk of the era.

Since the Japanese economic crash starting in the early 1990s, however, the trope has become discredited, as the Japanese aura of invulnerability became permanently cracked (see Analysis for more details). Today, the trope has been replaced in the Western world with a preoccupation over China taking over the world.

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This is a Western trope. Compare Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe, which is a Japanese trope about Creator Provincialism.

Sub-Trope of Take Over the World. See also Americasia, Yellow Peril, China Takes Over the World and America Takes Over the World.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Crash (the Iron Man graphic novel by Saenz). And in Marvel 2099, Stark Industries has become Stark-Fujikawa. This was later toyed with in Present Day Iron 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 explicitly named to be Tibet, but is obviously an expy of Imperial Japan, with red sun banner, soldiers wearing Japanese-like uniforms, and using German weapons. They even manage to conquer most of the world in the beginning of the story. A later book in the series mentions they had a non aggression treaty with Nazi Germany back in World War II.
  • 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).
    • This was interestingly revisited in the Spin-Off series Lucifer, which ran during The 2000s instead of The '90s. The Japanese pantheon are still depicted as cunning and ambitious, but noticeably more pathetic, with their massive store of conquests portrayed more as a knickknack-stuffed garage than anything else.
  • Fellow Vertigo Comics flagship Hellblazer also referenced this in the "Damnation's Flame" arc, where the metaphorical image of America at its worst - Uncle Sam as a gun-toting, drug-dealing pimp who's conquered both Britannia and the Russian Bear and blown Vietnam's brains out for trying to resist him - is seen cringing in fear at the rising sun.
    "There's further West than you, you know."
  • Buck Danny: Many of the early albums are very pro-America and anti-Japan, though granted they were made just after World War II.

    Fan Works 
  • The Code Geass fanfic I Heard the World is an inversion of the canon, where Imperial Japan colonized North America, conquered China and most of East Asia and the British Isles, named Britannia, where the events happen.
  • In the Death Note Cyberpunk AU Alternative Gods in keeping with the fic's whole Cyberpunk theme; lampshaded by Matt when Near tries to hack into the Japanese NPA's server for the SPK and is crushed by the superior skills of Kira and L:
    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.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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-nationalized 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  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!"
  • 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.
  • The corporation that is assaulted by terrorists/thieves in Die Hard is a Japanese corporation named "Takagi Corp" instead of the American corporation of the book it's based on, Nothing Lasts Forever, reflecting the economical weather of the era the movie was made in. Mr. Takagi, as a Cool Old Guy, makes a joke about it (although Gruber mentions in passing that Takagi was interned in Manzanar, so it may also be a "shoe in the other foot" joke).
    Mr. Takagi: Pearl Harbor didn't work out so good, so we got you with tape decks.
  • 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 Moon, Japan does not take over the world. Korea does.
  • In Other People's 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.
  • In The Santa Clause, Scott Calvin notices Japanese businessmen are occupying a table in the same Denny's restaurant he is dining in, making the all-American Denny's restaurant chain less than all-American.
  • In RoboCop 3, the Omni Consumer Products Mega-Corp gets bought out by the Japanese Kanemitsu Corporation. It's unclear whether they are better or worse than the old OCP, morally speaking... but their CEO is certainly more polite than Dick Jones in the first film.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • William Gibson's Sprawl 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 Cyberpunk 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.
  • Averted in Kieran Shea's cyberpunk Koko series (a.k.a EBK book series). Yes, the Koko series has most of the usual dystopian cyberpunk traits such as evil corporations surpassing governments of different countries, pollution so bad most of the world is uninhabitable, mercenaries killing and torturing for corporate or gov't interests or sometimes for their own kinks, pervasive mind-deadening entertainment. What it doesn't have is Japan taking over the world. In the series (which takes place farther in the future than most cyberpunk stories), Japan is a failed state and so devastated by pollution that only Tokyo is livable and it's been depopulated to 9 million people.
  • Rising Sun, a novel by Michael Crichton is all about how Japanese culture is allowing them to outperform the West.
  • 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.
  • A major part of Kurt Vonnegut's novel ''Hocus Pocus,’’ (1990) which is set in the early 2000s, centers around a for-profit prison owned by a heartless Japanese corporation that has taken over everything and hollowed out the larger community.
    "[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.
  • 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 favorable 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 combination with the Day of the Jackboot; 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 Nazi Germany and Japan.
  • In Charles de Lint's Svaha, most of the few remaining cities After the End are run by the yakuza and the corporations that they own.
  • Part of the backstory of The Sparrow is that Japan is the pre-eminent economic power in the world.
  • Ephraim Kishon wrote a satirical story about this. At the end he (the author Breaking the Fourth Wall) feared that they might write better satires than him.
  • Eric Lustbader wrote numerous unrelated novels around this concept, including Black Blade and White Ninja
  • Kim Newman's Dark Future for the Games Workshop setting 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.
  • Parodied in Dave Barry Slept Here, where the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was part of a "complex, long-term, and ultimately successful strategy to dominate the U.S. consumer-electronics market."
  • Dave Barry Does Japan explores some aspects of the trope. Notably, he readily agrees that Americans could do with the politeness and work ethic the Japanese display (and maybe learn to make some good cars), but the Japanese could stand to loosen up, noting that the edgiest he ever saw Japanese youth were Japanese Delinquents dressed like it was The '50s.
  • In The Tojo Virus, a hacker named David Kimura is the point man for a shadowy cabal of Japanese executives who intend to take out a thinly veiled expy of IBM and in doing so dominate the American economy and get revenge for the Japanese loss in World War II.
  • Somewhat downplayed, but present in Victoria, where Imperial Japan is more of a first-among-equals on the international scene than a truly hegemonic superpower—but still far more powerful in both relative and absolute terms than it ever was in real life, with the world's foremost navy and nuclear arsenal, a booming economy and major political influence in the UN and among the American successor states.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 
  • Ray Stevens, mocked this in the 1991 song "Workin' for the Japanese":
    We’re all working for the Japanese
    Little cars and color TV’s
    Sending all our money overseas
    To the Eastern sphere
    One day we’re gonna lose our roots
    Wear Oriental jeans and boots
    And drink nothing but Kawasaki sake, Honda wine, and Mitsubishi light beer
    Chrysler fights for survival
    So does General Motors
    Ford perseveres with better ideas
    And, everybody drives Toyotas
    Sony owns the Rockefeller Center
    And the Hawaiian archipelago
    We buy Seikos, walkmans, TV's, and minivans
    And wonder where the money all goes...
  • Vaporwave as a whole has this as an underlying motif, hand-in-hand with its heavy 1990s capitalist iconography. This manifests both as Gratuitous Japanese in the titles and frequent sampling of Japanese pop songs, especially in the subgenre of Future Funk.

     Radio 
  • In Nineteen Ninety-Four, a parody of Nineteen Eighty Four broadcast in 1988 on The BBC, the equivalent of Oceania is "AmJap", a WikiWord of "America-Japan". The cover of the sequel's Novelization shows the AmJap flag as a stars-and-stripes with a rising sun in the striped section.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Due to the major influence of Cyberpunk, Shadowrun is set in a world where this is sometimes true. The "nuyen" has become a global currency, Japan reestablished its imperial family and expanded its territories by force (including the Philippines and a significant portion of the California Free State), and at any given time, Japan is home to a disproportionately large number of megacorporations, including the very first one. There are forces and setbacks keeping it from truly ruling the world though, like a rebellious general, a Great Dragon, natural disasters, and a megacorp moving its headquarters to Russia, but there are plenty who dream of global domination as a realistic possibility.
  • Cyberpunk 2020 subverts this. While Japan is easily one of the most powerful nation states in the near future, with Zaibatsu-like megacorporations having a hold in all markets and vast corporate armies protecting Japanese assets and Arasaka being one of the most powerful of the world -if not the most-, European Economic Community is the dominant superpower both in terms of their economy and military. The EuroDollar has replaced US Dollar as de facto global currency and EEC also operates a giant rail gun on the moon, that is capable of annihilating any potential threat to them without the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction, guaranteeing military supremacy over other nations.
  • 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 Cyberpunk 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 one of the most powerful militaries 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. Ultimately, it's averted since the Combine was styled after feudal-era Japan by its leader in the 26th Century, due to his having been a fanboy of ancient Japan and wishing he could have been a real-life samurai. Thus the Combine really The Theme Park Version of Japan without any true ties to the nation itself.

    Theater 
  • The Complete History Of America Abridged gives this a wink and a nod:
    Rock: "Well, thank goodness we won this war; otherwise, the German and Japanese economies would dominate the world."
    (The boys can't believe this is right. They all check to make sure that their scripts are correct.)
    Rock: Hmm... a terrifying thought.

    Video Games 
  • 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. Even today, many of the most prominent video game franchises (Super Mario Bros., Pokémon, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda) are Japanese, as are two of the three companies that still make video game consoles (Nintendo and Sony).
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a Period Piece set in The '80s 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" in Grand Theft Auto III, which is apparently able to seat 12 people, as well as being amphibious and equipped to travel across arctic tundra. Similarly, in Grand Theft Auto 2, 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.) However, it makes a satirical point here: Japan has exported the worst parts of its economic system and cultural prejudices to Beyond Coast, and the social problems caused by this are some of the main obstacles the characters face. It's also ironically amusing that the protagonist is shown to be racist against the Japanese...
  • 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 complete the trope in their campaign ending.
  • The Mishima Zaibatsu in Tekken.
  • In The Orion Conspiracy, the One Nation Under Copyright that the main characters (who are mostly British, aside from the Irish protagonist) belong to/work for is called Kobayashi.
  • Rise of Nations: You can accomplish this by playing as Japan in the basic campaign mode.
  • Just about half of all Real-Time Strategy games set in the modern era has this as a potential ending.
  • The lingua franca of the X-Universe is a variation on Japanese (spoken with the words in reverse order for whatever reason). This is due to Japan leading scientific progress in the mid-21st century onward, making it the common tongue for Earth. The various alien species also adopt this "Neo-Japanese" from humanity as a trade language. Translation Convention makes the player hear them in whatever language the game is set to. Curiously enough, the game is not a Japanese product: the designers are German.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in Earth & Beyond. The Japanese took over Jupiter.
  • In Japan Bashing, a strategy game for the PC-98, the player must prevent Japan from taking over the U.S. by deploying anti-Japanese propaganda. Since it's a Japanese game made by Japanese people for Japanese people, it's all Played for Laughs.
  • One of the two endings to Killer7 results in Japan leading the United Nations in a war against the U.S. Given that the game was made by Suda51 (and runs heavy with the theme of eternal and inevitable conflict between eastern and western cultures), we can safely presume this is not meant to be a "good" ending.
  • Played straight in Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest as the player takes control of the Zipang/Japan army before embarking on the titular world conquest.
  • Nintendo Wars has a Japanese-styled faction, who use WWII-looking vehicles that are no less effective than their modern versions (and in Kanbei's case, are more effective).
  • In Cyberpunk 2077, while we don't yet know the full extent of its power and influence, it can be inferred form all the elements of Japanese culture seen throughout Night City (which is in California) that Japan may well be on the path to world preeminence, if not outright domination.

    Western Animation 
  • Prominent in many propaganda cartoons from World War II: Tokio Jokio, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, The Ducktators...
  • Family Guy: In "Road to the Multiverse", Brian and Stewie visit a universe where Japan dominated the world after World War II.
  • The Simpsons
    • In "Last Exit to Springfield," a worker from decades ago warns Burns' grandfather about the rise and fall of unionized America (the latter courtesy of Japan):
      Worker: One day, we'll form a union and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve! Then we'll go too far, and get corrupt and shiftless, and the Japanese will eat us alive!
      Grandfather: The Japanese?! Those sandal-wearing goldfish-tenders? Bosh, flim-shaw!
    • There's this line from the episode "Colonel Homer," where Homer is approached by an agent from a Country Music label.
      Agent: I'm from Rebel Yell Records, a division of the Tokasagi Corporation.
    • The famous episode "Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk" was originally going to be about Mr. Burns selling his power plant to a Japanese corporation, but the writers felt it would have been too obvious given how common such transactions like that were at the time. They ended up going with a group of German businessmen instead. One of the German investors still looks Japanese, for some reason.
    • After Homer bankrupts Herb Powell's car company in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" it is taken over by Kumatsu Motors, who also made Homer's pickup truck in the later episode "Mr. Plow."
  • Zero from Challenge of the GoBots was likely meant to be an anti-Japanese sentiment. Not only does he transform into a Japanese WWII plane but he also ends his first appearance with "Operation Kamikazee". Although, oddly enough, Gobots was based on the Japanese Machine Robo franchise.
  • Hell in the Ugly Americans universe is owned by a Japanese Mega-Corp and run by businessmen.
  • South Park: This plot is used in the episode "Chinpokemon" where the Anime show is just camouflage for Japan's real intention to take over the world by brainswashing all infants into become Nippophiles.note 

 
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Video Example(s):

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C&C: Red Alert 3

In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, the Soviets' meddling with the space-time continuum inadvertedly gave rise to the Japan-based Empire of the Rising Sun, who joins in on the war with the Allies and the Soviets believing that it is their divine destiny to Take Over The World.

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Main / JapanTakesOverTheWorld

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