I shall be a corpse washed up.
If I go away to the mountain,
I shall be a corpse in the grass
But if I die for the Emperor,
I shall regret nothing."
The Dai Nippon Teikoku (Great Japanese Empire) was the political entity that ran Japan from 1868 to 1947. It was also known as "Dai-tou-a Kyoueiken" (Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere).
The Greater Japanese Empire arose after the end of the Tokugawa Era, when Japan was wracked with two civil warsnote and casually battered by British ships after the murder of a businessman who failed to bow to a Samurai. The last Shogun of the House of Tokugawa was pressured to resign by the Domains of Satsuma and Chōshū, which first routed his armies and then declared their allegiance to the fifteen-year-old Emperor in preference to him. Crowned as the Emperor 'Meiji', the first years of his reign saw further conflict in the Boshin War of 1868-1869—Satsuma-Choshu realized that the Tokugawa stepping down was not enough to ensure their control given that a third of the country's best land was the Tokugawa's private property. So they seized it and made it and the entire country—together with their own Domains—a single administrative unit under the Emperor. For the first time Japan was a nation-state in anything more than in name only.
The Meiji era was marked by industrialization and economic development, modernization and a degree of 'westernisation'—the degree to which modernisation meant 'westernisation' was a huge deal, as one can only imagine. Culturally, Japan's earlier flirtations with Chinese culture had done something to prepare its people for this kind of change—but the radical restructuring of society that came with modernisation was something that no tradition of cultural assimilation could prepare them for, and left many people wondering what exactly it meant to be Japanese—thus, the fierce debates over 'Nipponjinron'—'ideas of Japanese-ness'.
The fairly sudden modernisation affected almost all areas of Japanese society—language, etiquette, clothing, laws and law enforcement, etc. The new Imperial administration expanded the Tokugawa's programme of sending observers and students to European nation-states (and the USA) to observe and learn their practices, and also hired foreign advisors—specialists in a plethora of technical fields—to staff their own colleges and universities. The new judicial system and constitution were largely modeled on those of Germany, for instance, because the formerly-of-Satsuma-and-Choshu ruling clique liked the idea of a strong Imperial Government and Military with rubber-stamp democratic assemblies. Also, their previous model—the French Second Empire—had had its ass thoroughly handed to it in the Franco-Prussian War at about the same time; obviously, the Prussian model was a winning one. Naturally, the government outlawed customs linked to Japan's feudal past—such as the bearing of weapons and top knot hairstyle, both of which were privileges of the nobility (think 'Samurai')—which was itself abolished along with the class system (of Nobles-Warriors, Artisans/Farmers and then Untouchables, in that order). Together with economic and administrative grievances, these policies saw the outbreak of Rebellion in the former Satsuma domain, led by Saigo Takamori; his last stand at the Battle of Shiroyama in 1877 effectively put the days of the Samurai to an end.
It is during the Meiji era that Japan established itself as an international power and a colonial Empire. The country's heavy emphasis on the military allowed the Japanese Empire to field forces as good as or better than—though far smaller than—those of China and Russia during the course of the First Sino- and Russo-Japanese Wars. However, the Empire made good on her centralised command system, the abilities of her commanders, her slightly-better logistical situation and the internal political problems of her opponents, which saw her come out more-or-less on top in both engagements; though both her opponents had far larger forces, they could only deploy so many at a time due to a combination of internal politicking and simple logistics. At the strategic-tactical level, Japan's formations and flotillas were generally (far) better coordinated and more mobile than those of their more numerous foes.
The First Sino-Japanese War saw relatively small but well-trained Japanese army and navy take on much larger, theoretically much better equipped (if only because China spent vast sums on buying up European weapons and ships, even if much funds were embezzled and their equipment were badly maintained), but rather poorly-trained Chinese forces. In principle, the Chinese intervened in Korea supposedly to prop up its government against peasant uprisings, contrary to previous agreement with the Japanese to mutually refrain from sending troops. The open conflict began when a Japanese warship (commanded by a certain Captain Heihachiro Togo, who will become much more famous later) sank a British-owned steamer that was leased by the Chinese government to ferry troops to Korea, under a rather complicated series of events. After a number of engagements in Korea and the Yellow Sea, the Chinese armies and fleets were in disarray and the Japanese were starting to invade Chinese mainland, forcing the Chinese to sue for peace. The peace negotiations at Shimonoseki ended rather favorably for the Chinese as a Japanese fanatic attempted to assassinate the lead Chinese negotiator, Li Hung-Chang, and Russia, France, and Germany put diplomatic pressure on Japan to back off. In the end, Japan gave up the territorial concessions on Chinese mainland that it had initially gained, but added Taiwan to its empire and increased political influence over Korea.
Paying both the indemnities of the First Sino-Japanese War and then the reparations from Boxer Rebellion on top of that were a huge drain upon the resources of the rather-weak and weakening central government of the Empire of the Qing—which, amazingly, continued to limp on for a few years yet until its final collapse and disintegration in the Revolution of 1911-12. On the other hand, the weakening and eventual disintegration of the Chinese central government established the unified nation-state of Japan as the new regional power in East Asia. There were a few ominous notes in all this, however. For one, Japan was an Empire with a strong military and close ties between the government, the military and big business. Second was the way Japan went about modernizing and responding to the interference of the colonial powers—via "defensive Imperialism." Take the Russo-Japanese war, for instance. Like the Sino-Japanese War, the war was basically fought over control of Korea; the Japanese claimed they were liberating it from foreign oppression. The Japanese started the war with a surprise-attack sea-based invasion of Russian Korea and China, which they launched without sea superiority. It was concluded when Japan made a negotiated peace with the Russian Empire, the negotiations being Theodore Roosevelt's personal initiative when it became clear that the War had ground to a stalemate that Russia could only win at a far higher cost than the Tsar was willing to pay. Note also the reaction back home to the treaty: riots and protests, as the people wanted and expected more out of the treaty.
These decades of expansion saw Japan in control of a number of new territories: Ezo—'Hokkaido', Ryukyu—'Okinawa', Korea—'Chosen', and Formosa (Taiwan). The unprecedented (conditional) defeat of a European Great Power by a non-European one startled many as Japan had been viewed as something of a backwater empire prior to that point. Prior to then, many had the impression that no matter how much Japan played copy-cat and styled herself after the Imperial powers, she would never truly be one of them because she was not of the same ("superior") European substance.
However, the contest was not quite as uneven as it might appear at first glance. The Russian far east was at the end of a long and tenuous supply line. Far from the bright centers of St. Petersburg and Moscow it was properly viewed as a hardship and punishment post and its defenders were hardly numbered among their country's best soldiers. Also, the reinforcing Russian Baltic fleet had no choice but to try and fight their way through a Japanese blockade in a doomed attempt to reach their Pacific ports after sailing all the way around Africa (since Britain, Japan's ally in the West, refused to grant them passage through the Suez Canal). Still, few outside of Japan were prepared for just how quickly the Japanese were able to gain the upper hand; US President Theodore Roosevelt even publicly expressed admiration for them as "the plucky little guy" in the fight. To some extent the Russian Empire had also shot itself in the foot when, after using the unprovoked attack as a rallying point for imperialistic patriotism—to distract people from socio-economic problems—they appeared to have bungled the conduct of the war and then given in all too easily. Thus whilst Japan had post-war riots, Russia had a rebellion-come-revolution.
The Russo-Japanese war also provided Europeans with their first proper glimpse of the (fanatical) bravery of the Imperial Japanese soldiery as well as their willingness to endure both grueling hardships and astonishingly heavy casualties in the frontal (infantry) assaults necessitated by their relative lack of artillery and machine guns. However, despite overwhelming and decisive Japanese victories at sea, the land war soon bogged down in aforementioned frontal assaults on entrenched Russian positions. Faced with a much more intractable conflict then they had bargained for, both sides accepted an American offer of mediation that culminated in the Treaty of Portsmouth. Under not-inconsiderable American-European pressure to give back most of the territory they had occupied, save Port Arthur (Lushun, the modern naval base at the southern tip of the Liaoning Peninsula that the Chinese had built in late 19th century, only to have lost it to Japan during the First Sino-Japanese War and to have the Russians take over as the price of diplomatically pressuring Japan to yield after that war) and its environs—it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal, as Russia was considering escalating (and quite probably winning) the War if the outcome looked particularly unfavourable—Japan acquiesced amidst nationalist protests and riots at home. In the long term the 'unfair' terms of the peace combined with the success of the military action—few within Japan knew how close the country had been to losing—to foster further anti-foreign sentiment and the feeling that the application of force was Japan's best foreign policy tool.
The Meiji era was followed by the Taishō era (1912 - 1926) upon the establishment of the Taishō Emperor, Yoshihito, as ruler. The Taishō era is known as the "Taishō Democracy," as during this era that the lower house of the Diet (the House of Representatives) gained the upper hand in Japanese politics, and steps were made towards expanding the electorate (property qualifications were substantially reduced—although not eliminated—in 1925). Another significant event of the Taishō era was Japan's involvement in World War I where they, as allies of the British, seized many of the German-owned colonies in East Asia and Micronesia. (This time they were allowed to keep them under a League of Nations mandate.) The Japanese Empire was later invited by the United States to join the international force that was intervene in the Russian Civil War following the collapse of the Tsarist regime. The Japanese Expeditionary Force in Siberia was the largest single foreign force deployed, with Japan taking over the Russian concessions—including Port Arthur and key railway lines—in Chinese Manchuria.
After the Allies withdrew from Vladivostok following the capture and execution of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, leader of the White Russian Army, the Japanese elected to stay on. This was essentially down to a fear of Communism effectively on their doorstep; some had hopes that they would be able to establish a Siberian puppet-state as a buffer to help protect the Empire. The continued Japanese presence concerned the USA, who were increasingly wary of what they saw as Japanese expansionism—which they considered a bad thing, even in the more-civilised European powers. Although Japan later withdrew due to risings costs and diplomatic pressure—amidst further rioting and public disorder back home, as the deployment of so many troops overseas had caused a domestic rice shortage which compounded the people's disappointment and anger at having their rice requisitioned off and driving domestic prices up—the United States and Britain were much more wary about Japanese territorial ambitions after that point. Britain's chosen approach was to gradually disengage from the political side of Imperialism in the Far East, increasingly leaving 'formal Imperialism' (where you plant flags in places and call them yours) to Japan. France, whose interests in Asia were fewer but more formal—as per French Indochine—did much the same in its approach to China at least. The USA, which had always preferred to leave China open to trade from all countries,note settled for watching this business from afar and condemning it in increasingly more patronising and adversarial language.
It should be noted that in many of these wars and conflicts, the European powers financially backed and lauded the Japanese for their conduct during the war to ridicule Russians for losing to a yellow monkey. note note Many Russian and German prisoners found Japanese forces to be quite gentlemanly, and such prisoners were treated quite well until their release. Some German prisoners even emigrated to Japan after the First World War having become enamored with the Japanese due to the excellent treatment they received as prisoners because Japan is still groveling to the Western Powers for favors. The Koreans and Manchurian Chinese, however, present a much more critical view of Japan during this time period, as land was robbed and given free to Japanese land lords and the natives were forced to register as tenant farmers with high rent designed to be impossible to ever pay off, land was upturned to mine out minerals, indigenous animals were hunted to extinction for pelts, and farms with various crops designed to weather through famine was demolished and forced to singly produce rice for the growing military which was getting ready to invade mainland China. Those lands were mere beachheads and supply points for the real conquest.
Note, however, that the reign of the Emperor Taisho saw no real changes to either the constitution or the structure of the government. The achievements of 'Taisho Democracy' were ultimately ephemeral, limited as they were by a system which strongly favoured—and saw a return to—a government dominated by the military and the bureaucracy. (It should be noted that historians also note that Yoshihito had to have his advisers make most of his decisions, since he was mentally deficient from being inbred.)
With the accession of the Emperor 'Showa' in 1926, the Japanese Empire went through the Great Depression. The radicalising of politics met with military, government and big business interests—all of which overlapped because of the way the country had developed since the accession of the Emperor Meiji—to produce the kurai tanima (the Dark Valley), a dark era of militaristic fascist note Imperialism that lasted from around 1930 until 1945. The whole society was taken over by a militaristic frenzy—the traditional Japanese self-restraint seemed to shatter completely. This increasing militarization fueled imperial ambitions and resulted in massive conscription to rapidly inflate the size of the armed forces. Rapid modernization had also resulted in a population boom and considerable social upheaval, particularly in rural Japan. Conscription also presented a solution to popular unrest by drafting dispossessed, unemployed, and rootless younger sons—the most likely potential troublemakers— into the military.
To compensate for these social forces a brutal disciplinary doctrine — ostensibly based on that of the samurai, in reality based on a very selective interpretation of samurai values — was adopted by the leaders. Historians usually point to the adoption of torture to "toughen" soldiers up and keep them in-line as the ultimate source of Japanese brutality during the Second Sino-Japanese and Second World Wars as per the principle of "knock-on aggression"note . Once a ready supply of "logs" was made available thanks to the capture of Chinese troops and urban centers from 1937 onwards, it is worth noting that making new recruits murder civilians or POWs note to "blood" them was made standard practice.
The Second Sino-Japanese War was the result of Japanese gung-ho militarism — though not in the sense one might expect. note in 1931, that sparked the latest round of border-incidents in the summer of 1937 into a full-blown war. Ironically, figures within the Imperial General Staff and Army had in 1937 figured slavery of China was too great an endeavor to take on yet, and antagonising Chiang Kai-Shek's anti-socialist party-state was unproductive given the mutual threat posed by Soviet Russia. While they were building up for war, one incident sparked by the lesser officers would start it off prematurely.
The Manchurian Incident which sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War which was when the Japanese Army started a war in Northeast China with a declaration after the invasion, just like they would for Pearl Harbor and they did for the Russo-Japanese War, just to have an excuse that they tried to contact but no one was there to answer or the message got lost. The army stationed to "protect" its puppet-state, Manchuria, had a soldier who was unaccounted for, and with no reason concluded the evil Chinese must have kidnapped and killed him. The real reason was, in a militaristic government, the Imperial Navy and the Imperial Japanese Army was competing for glory and recognition, and the Army needed a huge military campaign to succeed in order to erase their shame during the Russo-Japanese war and one-up the successful Imperial Japanese Navy. When successful, this would garner support and cement them as the true force in serving "His Imperial Majesty." This would later result in the Navy doing the same with Pearl Harbor. Which would again reciprocated by the IJA's foray into Imphal and battling in Singapore, Burma, and India.
(The missing soldier later came back, as he had been having an especially long bowel movement session in the stalls. But all the IJA needed was an excuse anyway, so they continued the invasion.)
Do note that "The Manchurian Incident", an older and highly euphemistic Japanese name for the latter, is considered highly offensive by the Chinese and is subject to Kotobagari because: #1 it implies that the IJA's actions were in some way legitimate and #2 it implies that 'the Three Eastern/Northern Provinces' and their people have a claim to semi-autonomy/independence). This was followed up by such incidents as the Battle of Shanghai (1932) and ongoing economic warfare in Northern China, where the Japanese military tried to undermine the Chinese Nationalists' central government by supporting regional (separatist) warlords and smuggling huge quantities of goods either banned (i.e. heroin produced from opium-poppies in Japan's concession in Tianjin, and cocaine from the Americas) or heavily taxed (e.g. medium-quality cigarettes). After four years of brutal, seemingly-endless regular and partisan warfare, it eventually merged into the whole mess that was World War II. Japanese forces were involved in disgusting war crimes—primarily involving Prisoners of War and civilians—which in the space of two years blackened what had until then been a fairly good reputation among the Europeans whom they feared (they never had any mercy for peoples they already successfully enslaved, though).
Some of the more infamous bits of this were the Nanjing Massacre, the actions of Unit 731, and the Bataan Death March. The Other Wiki has a page on it. However, it's worth noting that while Japanese forces directly killed up to 10 million Chinese civilians, along with a great many other POWs and noncombatants, the other 10 million were killed by starvation-related diseases due to the seizure of crops and displacement of populationsnote . These figures have been abused for propaganda purposes by both sides. Japanese nationalists have tried to revise direct kills downward to try and "prove" that the IJA was more innocent than it seemed, while anti-Japanese Asian nationalists (overwhelmingly from China, South Korea, and North Korea) have emphasized direct kills upward to try and "prove" that all Japanese themselves are irredeemably evil.
Note also the USA's reaction to Japanese wartime atrocities—disapproval, and the placing of hard-hitting sanctions on strategic materials to bring the Japanese to heel (as the U.S. had already done thrice before—pressuring Japan, that is, not sanctioning her) directly led to them lashing out in an offensive to take all of south-east Asia, inclusive of the American Philippines. Caught up in this would be the day that has (together with the dropping of the Atomic Bombs) in most Americans' opinions defined most/all prior and subsequent US-Japanese relations: the day the Imperial Navy attacked the US Pacific Fleet at anchor in Hawaii.
Mostly forgotten between the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II were the SovietJapanese Border Wars, a series of border conflicts between Japan and the Soviet Union between 1938 and 1939. While the Japanese Empire went into the conflicts with the confidence of their victory in the Russo-Japanese War, the relatively well-equipped Red Army of the USSR would prove to be a much tougher nut to crack. This conflict showed clearly how badly outdated and outclassed the Imperial Japanese Army was in terms of unit-organisation and equipment — especially when it came to armoured vehicles. Japan was not only without dedicated armoured-brigades, as per the French Army's example, but they were also short on tanks and moreover, what tanks they 'did' have were unbelievably rubbish even compared to the Soviet Union's shitty pre-T-34 and KV-1 models.note The Soviet-Japanese border conflicts culminated in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, which resulted in a decisive Soviet victory and the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact. The latter would be the reason why there was little Soviet-Japanese conflict for most of World War II. The Soviets would later break the pact and invade Japanese-held Manchuria on August 9, 1945, less than a week before the Japanese surrender.
Ironically, Imperial Japan actually managed to achieve one of its goals of the war because it effectively ended European domination over Asia. This excuses neither the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan nor its true intention, which was to supplant European imperialism with its own. "Asia for Asians" may have been the slogan that the Imperial Japanese government used throughout Asia, but in practice it was more often interpreted as "Asia for Ourselves", and local populations who may have welcomed the Japanese as liberators were quickly disabused of these notions by their so-called benefactors' predilections for exploitation, genocide, racism and cruelty. While the true toll can never be tallied, it's estimated that between 10 and 20 million civilians died under the "customary brutality" of Japanese military occupation and the associated famines and epidemics. It was at this point that the Empire adopted the term "Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere" to collectively refer to those nations thus "freed" (albeit free in name only) and run by puppet governments.
To prevent a second Treaty of Versailles, and because Japan was needed as an ally against the emerging communist regimes in Asia, America was very soft on Japan after the surrender. Additionally, several senior Japanese officers who weren't involved in war crimes were nonetheless tried, convicted, and executed on trumped-up charges primarily to avenge the humiliating defeats they had inflicted on U.S. and British forces during the early stages of the war, leading some Japanese to dismiss those war crimes trials that did occur as "victors' justice."
It is sometimes claimed that unlike Germany, which as a nation apologized for the actions of the Nazis in Europe, Japan has never formally apologized to the Asian nations that were invaded by the Japanese armies. Yet there have been several apologies from the country's (Prime) Ministers. Japan has also paid over 300 billion Yen in war reparations to the nation-states it occupied, with some formal apologizes to former POWs by a few Japanese ambassadors. However, the lack of a Japanese counterpart of "Denazification" and (extremely) cautious treatment of the mention of the subject in school textbooks makes Asians that lived through the Japanese occupation continue to see the Japanese as generally unrepentant and being possessed of a disgustingly cavalier attitude toward the actions of their grandparents' and great-grandparents' generation. On the other hand, it should be noted that virtually all Japanese school history textbooks do describe Japanese war atrocities (and in particular, the Rape of Nanking), and despite the recent attempt by the right-wing Society for History Textbook Reform to introduce a textbook omitting/casting doubt on the Nanking Massacre, comfort women, and general colonial nastiness, widespread protests and denunciation by the Japanese Teachers' Union led to the book being introduced in a measly 18 of the country's 11,000+ junior high schools.
There's plenty of controversy about post-war Japan, ranging from attempted whitewashing of history in some Japanese textbooks and a lack of focus on the country's actions during World War II, and ultranationalist revisionist movements that claim Japan did nothing wrong and vehemently deny Japanese war crimes.
It should be noted that despite its horrific war crimes and allying with a genocidal regime, Japan was ironically one of the safe havens for Jews during World War II. This is mainly because unlike many European countries, Japan never had a history of fervent anti-Semitism due to their history of resisting the influence of Christianity in their lands. While Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda did make its way into Japan, and the Nazi regime did pressure Japan to extradite or implement the Nazi racial policies throughout their empire, Japan refused to do so for three main reasons:
- The Jewish population within the Japanese empire was very minimal, and hunting down a religious minority within a huge empire just wasn't worth the effort.
- The Japanese did not want to further anger the Allied forces and potentially incur harsher repercussions.
- The Japanese did buy into the Nazis' anti-Semitic propaganda, but for a completely different reason— Japan, lacking a history of anti-Semitism, saw the Jews as valuable assets to the Japanese empire for wealth and science instead. In addition, a lot of the Nazi propaganda compared the Jews to the "Asiatic/Mongoloid" inferior race, which more or less backfired on the Nazis since the Nazis did see the Japanese people to be inferior to the "Aryan" race.
Because anti-Semitism never became mainstream in Japan, many Jews fleeing from the Holocaust did manage to flee there and integrate into Japanese society. There was even a Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who risked his career to save thousands of Jewish lives, and the Imperial Japanese government relocated many Jews in various parts of their empire (one of which is the Shanghai Ghetto).
All this (apart from the Jewish save-haven aspect) has led to lingering resentments against Japan, particularly in China and Korea. These tensions flare up somewhat often, like in recent disputes over the resource-rich Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Note that Japan is the only country that still has an Emperor (but importantly, Japan itself post-1947 is no longer an empire; unlike the remaining European monarchs, the Emperor officially has no powers, and takes no role in government at all, being a purely ceremonial position most comparable to the British monarchy).
Below are described the important figures of Showa Period Imperial Japan (up to 1945).
- Emperor Hirohito note : Hirohito was 124th Emperor of Japan during the Showa Period (1926-1989). In 1940 under Hirohitos leadership, Japan signed the Tripartite pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Hirohito chose hardlined General Hideki Tojo to prepare a policy review. Tojo along with the chiefs of staff for the Army and Navy convinced Hirohito to opt for war. Hirohitos involvement in Japans war effort has been controversial to say the least with some saying that Hideki Tojo was forced to take all blame so Hirohito could save face and others saying that he was a puppet for Hideki Tojo and the leaders of the Japanese military. Though it should be noted that Emperors in Japan traditionally held little to no political power, and their roles are largely ceremonial. The Meiji Restoration, which was supposed to restore power to the Emperor, had been little more than just a slogan and a rallying cry. In reality, political power of the post-Meiji era was held in the hands of oligarchs comprised of the most powerful figures of the military, economical and political spheres.
- Hideki Tojo: He has his own page.
- Tosuke Matsuoka: Tosuke Matsuoka was the Japanese Foreign Minister from the Manchurian Incident to the first few years of World War II. He spent almost a decade studying in American in the late 19th Century and later joined the Japanese foreign ministry department. In 1933 he announced Japans decision to leave the League of Nations in a speech where he blamed China for the war because they were defying Japan. He signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy and pushed for a Japanese invasion of Eastern Russia.
- Isoroku Yamamoto: Admiral Yamamoto was one of the few moderate military leaders in the Japanese junta during World War II. He was one of Japan's most well-traveled commanders, with his years spent in the USA giving him a much better conception of the American mindset (i.e. not exactly 'weak-willed' or 'craven'). This put him at odds with the Navy high command, many of whose members had (never left the country and so had) truly dismal understandings of their would-be 'enemies'. While knowing that the odds against defeating America were high, and would get worse the longer a war lasted, he dutifully carried out the war his superiors had decided on.
- Tomoyuki Yamashita: General Yamashita was Japans Rommel. He was a brilliant strategist best known for his blitzkrieg bluff conquest of Malaya and Singapore and causing the biggest British capitulation in history. Hideki Tojo saw him as a rival for power and had him relocated to Manchuria. He was one of the nicer members of the Japanese high command and on one occasion after a hospital full of Allied personnel massacre he had the instigators executed and personally apologized. He was executed as a war criminal after the Japanese surrender for being unable to stop his soldiers' crimes in what became known as the Yamashita Principle. This was at the time and still is today controversial because many of the soldiers whose war crimes he was punished for weren't actually under his command at all.
Imperial Japan in popular media:
- The incompetent, war-crazy Keron Empire in Sgt. Frog is largely a satire of Imperial Japan. This is Played for Laughs—even their tendency to think military force can solve anything, their 731-style scientist's experimenting on humans and their name for Earth being a wordplay on a WWII-era ethnic slur against the Chinese has made the series.
- Osamu Tezuka's Adolf is set during WWII in the Axis nations, especially Japan. His portrayal of the government and the general public (aside from our heroes, of course) is less than sympathetic. He was also planning to do a Phoenix story set during this period that involved the Imperial army searching for the titular bird in conquered China, but sadly, it was never completed.
- Grave of the Fireflies is another WWII story that takes place in Japan, showing in heartbreaking detail what the civilians had to put up with as the war ground down to its last bloody days.
- Barefoot Gen largely takes place during the last days of the Empire.
- Kurogane Pukapuka Tai is a much less serious work than the above, but it is set on an Imperial Japanese Navy cruiser in 1943. Crewed almost entirely by women. Homoerotic comedy ensues.
- Now and Then, Here and There is loaded with references to Imperial Japanese culture. The fact that the king is a completely batshit insane warlord only furthers the effect.
- Millennium Actress begins with the titular heroine being sent to Manchuria to make propaganda films during the second Sino-Japanese war and goes on to depict the general devastation of Japan as the war progresses. Also hints at the role of that the Kempetei military police played in suppressing dissent during the war years.
- Rail of the Star tells the story of the trials and tribulations of a Japanese family desperately trying to escape North Korea after the surrender. Notably glosses over why Japanese civilians would be so desperate to escape Korea after the war.
- Zipang has a modern-day Japanese warship sent back in time to World War II, where the Values Dissonance between the pacifistic modern-era crew and their Imperial military counterparts is explored.
- It is even more evident if one compares the original manga with its anime adaptation. The manga author is known for his somewhat revanchist views, and among the story two protagonists he largely concentrates on a downtime one, Kusaka, a principled and decisive intelligence officer who, after learning the future history and undergoing somewhat of a Heel Realisation, decided to stick to the "if wrong to be set right" side and rid Imperial Japan of everything that isn't right with it, whether the nation wants it or not. His uptime counterpart Kadomatsu is instead portrayed as a mulling milquetoast who never ever displays any initiative and can only react to the others' doings and spout pacifistic slogans. The anime is much more reconciliatory in tone and largely centers on Kadomatsu, ironically without removing his indecisiveness or giving him a stronger conviction in his ideals.
- While they're more often compared to Nazis, the brutal Principality of Zeon from Mobile Suit Gundam was also heavily influenced by Imperial Japan. It's especially notable the way Zeon's hypocrisy towards the rest of the space colonies parallels Japan's toward the rest of Asia. Both claimed to be fighting for the people's freedom against corrupt, imperialistic foreign powers while at the same time wiping out huge swathes of the population they were nominally trying to protect.
- Gyo by Junji Ito features one of 731's hideous experiments coming back to haunt modern Japan with fantastically disturbing results.
- Fullmetal Alchemist and Pumpkin Scissors are both set in A Nazi by Any Other Name settings, with the protagonists being members of the Evil Army who want to change things. They both also feature secret government labs where mad doctors conduct sick experiments, although they seem to do this mostly to their own soldiers as opposed to captured enemies.
- Rurouni Kenshin is a historical fiction set in the early years of the Meiji Era. It follows Kenshin, a former hitokiri (assassin/killer) of the pro-Emperor Choshu party during the Boshin War, and his life in the new era. He seeks to repent for his crimes of killing and vows never to take another life.
- Makoto Shishio, one of the major Big Bads of the series can be considered as an embodiment of all that was evil about WWII-era Japan with his cruel Social Darwinist beliefs that those who are strong have the right to kill and oppress the weak in their quest for power and the desire to make Japan a great and powerful nation at the cost of throwing away any kind of morality. In fact, the manga outright states it.
- Kenshin is largely modeled after a famous Real Life assassin Kawakami Gensai, who was so feared for his effectiveness and principled stance that he was arrested and hanged in 1872 on trumped-up charges, because the very same unscrupulous politicos who were using him to get rid of their enemies feared that he would turn on them.
- Apocalypse Zero:
- The protagonist and the Big Bad are decendents of Shiro Hagakure, their equivalent of the infamous Shiro Ishii of unit 731. The reason that his clan dedicated themselves to fighting for justice is to make up for this specific ancestor's horrible deeds.
- His Powered Armor is powered by the souls of 3,000 sacrificed Chinese POW.
- His fighting style is also created by unit 731. A flashback in the manga shows Shiro himself demonstrated a technique on a POW to a group of Japanese soldiers, killing him brutally, then told the soldiers to practice on other POW.
- The freakish monsters he fought are also the result of a unit 731's experiment.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei contains a few references to the period and its effect on modern Japan. One episode has the characters putting on glasses from earlier eras and expressing reactionary views. The owner of the glasses store indicates a pair from the 1930s to 1945 and cautions against putting them on because bad things happen from that viewpoint. Another episode centers on a character who Apologizes a Lot and the protagonist asserts that people in Japan are expected to be deferential and apologetic because of their militarism during the earlier period, and this general idea that modern Japan is a defanged Butt-Monkey compared to the past is raised in several episodes.
- The anime used aesthetics from the era (Nozomu's style of clothes were the norm at the time) which caused confusion on whether or not the show is supposed to be a period piece.
- Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere is a guro manga with surprisingly little Gorn, however it does follow the titular concept and ends with it being a roaring success. Essentially a humiliation comic, a meteorite that makes only females grow to giant size hits Japan. Rather than follow standard obvious logic and merely have giant busty samurai ladies wield giant mile-long-firing bows, they do some...interesting modifications to replace their tanks with ko-gals and other highschool riffraff. Much much much MUCH weirder than it sounds. The lack of gorn is due to the fact most tanks are taken out off to the side in the background, it is much more about the training of these tankwomen and showering them with the loving adoration of the Imperial Spirit and other good propagandistic stuffs, then they are followed through training as they must be broken of their filthy European/American liberalism thought processes and basic human modesty to become just and great imperial war machines. The most insane part has to be pages 150-154 where there are actually worked out schematics for how the tankwomen function and a little afterwards when they discuss how to get the tanks shells to fire...more...properly. It should be obvious by now they certainly aren't spitting these shells... As to Imperial Japan content, lets just say if the nudity and humiliation were removed and it aired, Japan would quickly find themselves under attack by the rest of the Pacific nations. For no apparent reason, by the way, Japan's idea works wonderfully and wins them many victories so the allied nations steal bits of the meteorite and copy Japan's tank-girl technology. This is just one very strange manga from beginning to end.
- The first, second, and fourth Sakura Wars games are set in a Steampunk Alternate History version of Taisho-era Imperial Japan (though the third and fifth entries move to Gay Paree and The Big Applesauce). In addition to the steampunk elements, the alternate history involves (in the second game) the militarist faction failing to retake control of the Japanese government, and "Taisho Democracy" instead surviving.
- The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service references both Unit 731 and the Rape of Nanking, big taboos in Japanese media, and several of the skeletons in the closet the service exhume (sometimes literally) are connected to Imperial Japan or its fall.
- Yuu Watase has three mangas set in this era:
- Sakura Gari, Watase's first foray into yaoi, takes place in the Tokyo of 1926.
- The Fushigi Yuugi prequel Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden is from a similar timeframe, taking place in 1923.
- The other Fushigi Yuugi prequel, Fushigi Yuugi: Byakko Senki note is supposed to happen around 8 or 10 years after Genbu Kaiden, meaning it's probably set in between 1932 and 1935. Byakko Senki's first chapter, however, begins in 1923 too... with Suzuno being orphaned in the Great Kanto Earthquake.
- In High School Of The Dead, the Takagi family are Uyoku Dantai — e.g. militant right wing traditionalists, revisionists and ultra nationalists. This is admitted outright in the manga but toned down in the anime.
- Night Raid 1931 is set in China and provides a surprisingly clear-eyed view of the early Showa era, including depictions of the sheer desperation the Great Depression caused in both China and Japan. Notably includes an unvarnished depiction of the notorious "Mukden Incident" in which rogue Imperial Japanese Army officers pretending to be Chinese soldiers blew up the Manchurian warlord Zhang Zuolin in his railway carriage to provide a pretext for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.
- Some parts of Hetalia: Axis Powers take place around this time as well, and Japan himself isn't exactly shown as being flawless in this period: when he stabs China In the Back, it's presented as a Kick the Dog moment and not Played for Laughs (unlike virtually everything else in this manga), thus marking quite the big Mood Whiplash.
- Then again, China and Japan are portrayed as still being friends at the time—despite the Sino-Japanese war of 1895 and the subsequent souring of relations as Japan became increasingly belligerent in defending her business interests in the country.
- It's also a common sight in Hetalia fanfiction and especially Dark Fic, with Japan receiving either Draco in Leather Pants or Ron the Death Eater treatment depending on the fan writer. I.e, Japan/Taiwan J-Fen fanart set in this make him the first via portraying him as Taiwan's Knight in Shining Armor, while the... infamous fanfic All He Ever Wanted has him as the second via portraying him as a total Lawful Evil bastard who manipulates everyone around him and specially England.
- Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (Sōin Gyokusai Seyo!) is a gekiga manga by Japanese war veteran and mangaka Shigeru Mizuki, published in The '70s and made into a TV series in 2007. It harshly criticizes the Japanese war effort and graphically portrays the war as a futile and pointless campaign, depicting the horrific conditions Japanese soldiers endured, the unsympathetic commanding officers, and questioning the original intent of the war.
- Femme Kabuki is an informative H-manga about a troupe of female performers clashing with the corrupt Meiji Restoration being run by the same oppressors as before only with new clothes/titles. The sole guy in the group (used as a go-fer) is a samurai that's repeatedly clashed with the dirty cops and disguising himself with glasses and his hair pulled back with one of the girls secretly in love with his alter ego for rescuing her from Attempted Rape.
- The Ru Kain 1999 arc of Blue Comet SPT Layzner transposes the virulent racism and brutal practices of the Imperial Japanese army in Korea onto the occupying Gradosian forces in a beaten and conquered Earth. In fact, the discomfort many Japanese viewers felt at the time upon seeing such a brutal critique of the past is considered to be one of the reasons the show was Cut Short.
- Aside from the Anglo-American and Arthurian aspects, The Holy Britannian Empire in Code Geass also borrows some elements from Imperial Japan circa World War II. This is especially evident in how conquered people are referred to by numbers and the Empire's general treatment of anyone not considered Britannian. Ironically enough, the series has the Japanese themselves in the receiving end of all this (aka Area 11).
- Most of the incarnations of Ghost in the Shell portray Japan of 2030es largely as a satire of the Imperial Japan exactly hundred years before with all the militarism, imperialism and corruption aplenty. Especially prevalent this is in the original manga and Arise! OVAs, though SAC hardly lags behind much.
- Michiyo Akaishi's Akatsuki no Aria not only takes place in the Tokyo of 1923, but it's a plot point since the manga's first Wham Episode takes place right after the infamous 1923 Kanto Earthquake.
- The Twelve Kingdoms has a kaiyaku (people from Earth swept into the kingdoms) named Suzu Ooki, who comes from Meiji-era Japan. Right before she's brought into the action, she's seen wearing a hakama and getting ready to begin working as a maid for a rich Tokyo family.
- Fist of the Blue Sky, the prequel to Fist of the North Star, takes place in China and stars Kenshiro Kasumi who came from Imperial Japan but is highly apathetic to politics.
- The seinen manga Tsubasa by Ayumi Tachihara is from the POV of Daisuke Shibusawa, a young man who is a member of a kamikaze squad, and follows him through his last days.
- The josei manga and OAV Kasei Yakyoku takes place in 1923, with the Great Kanto Earthquake having a vital role in the plot.
- It may not look it, but Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is actually set in the Taishou Era. The only hint of this in the early parts of the story (which is easily mistaken for a Jidaigeki setting) is the presence of electrical wiring in the town Tanjiro visits. It becomes much more obvious as of Chapter 13/Episode 7 when Tanjiro and Nezuko arrive in Asakusa, Tokyo and are blindsided by the presence of electric lights on every street corner and trolleys driving down the streets.
- The Man Behind The Sun, a Chinese exploitation film about the 731 war crimes. Many characters are fictional, but the grotesque moments are based on the actual war crimes.
- The Devil's Gluttony, another 731 flick, this time produced by Japanese filmmakers. Being that they were affiliated with Japan's Communist party, the message we're apparently supposed to take away from this is that Japan's current government isn't as far removed from these atrocities as they'd like people to think.
- Tora! Tora! Tora!, acclaimed Japanese-American co-production that shows us Pearl Harbor from two very different perspectives.
- Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard, later adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg.
- Letters from Iwo Jima, a rare Anglo (sympathetic, no less) film about the battle from the Japanese soldiers' perspective.
- The Bridge on the River Kwai about the infamous "Railroad of Death" across Burma and Thailand.
- 2009: Lost Memories, is an Alternate History film that features a Korea that is still dominated by Imperial Japan in the early 21st century.
- Paradise Road about a Japanese prison camp for female European colonists in Sumatra.
- Akira Kurosawa got his start in movies making wartime propaganda flicks like Sanshiro Surigata Part II (judo warrior has to fight an Ugly American) and especially The Most Beautiful (women workers in a munitions plant, making precision lenses for the Emperor). After the war he felt guilty about this, and made 1946 film No Regrets for Our Youth, about the persecution of anti-war student radicals.
- Noted Japanese film Auteur Seijun Suzuki's Fighting Elegy uses a schoolboy obsessed with fighting as a metaphor for the early Showa era
- Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a 1983 movie directed by Nagisa Oshima and written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg based on Laurens van der Post's experiences during World War II as a prisoner of war as depicted in his works The Seed and the Sower (1963) and The Night of the New Moon (1970).
- City of Life and Death: Film of the Nanjing Pleasantness, made by a Chinese-Japanese team. Provoked some controversy in Japan and China, where right-wing groups have criticised its portrayal of Japanese soldiers and Japanese war crimes, the Japanese right-wingers for being dirty liars & trying to shame the Japanese nation with untruths, and the Chinese right-wingers and trying to portray the Japanese in too human & sympathetic a light, respectively. It comes off fairly neutral, speaking from an Anglospheric POV. Maybe a little muted, even; the film certainly doesn't stray as far into gratuitous war crime territory as it could've, favouring instead a more coherent (and human) narrative.
- A Page of Madness (1926) is set in an insane asylum sometime in the early 20th century.
- 1934 film A Story of Floating Weeds is about a traveling Japanese theater troupe.
- Twenty-Four Eyes is about a schoolteacher in Japan before and during World War II, struggling to educate her students as the government gradually grows more repressive and warlike.
- Yamato is about the famous battleship and its suicidal final voyage in 1945.
- The Great Raid depicts the joint United States Army Ranger and Filipino Guerrilla raid to rescue prisoners of war held in the Cabanatuan prison camp. Scenes in the prison camp, as well as an establishing scene of the mass-execution of American POWs at another camp in the Philippines, depict the severity of Japanese treatment of prisoners of war. Additional screen time is spent in Manilla, where the Japanese treatment of Filipino civilians—including the summary execution of doctors, nurses and orderlies on accusation of providing medical supplies to the various resistance cells—is shown. The film's Big Bad is an officer in the Kempeitai, the Imperial Japanese Army's secret police.
- In a case of Reality Is Unrealistic, some reviewers criticized the Japanese atrocities for being too "over-the-top" in brutality, even racist, even though the the atrocities shown were much more toned down than what the Imperial Japanese military did in real life.
- The Last Samurai takes place towards the later years of the Meiji Restoration and is loosely based on Saigo Takamori's Satsuma rebellion.
- The R-Rated Opening of The Wolverine involves the bombing of Nagasaki. Wolverine is shown as a POW held in a camp across the bay, and both he and a Japanese soldier survive but everyone else in the camp kicks it, including some military leaders who choose seppuku over dying in the explosion. Said soldier is Ichirō Yashida, Mariko's grandfather.
- My Way which tells the story of a Korean subject who is sentenced to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army for starting a riot after he was disqualified in favor of a Japanese Olympic hopeful. They serve in the same unit and are station in the northern Manchurian frontier, where they are captured by the Soviets and are later forced to fight against the Germans in the Eastern Front, where they are captured and forced to defend the Normandy beaches during D-Day, and are ultimately captured by American G.I.s.
- Flowers of War, starring Christian Bale as an European posing as a priest during the Nanking Massacre in order to protect a number of Chinese schoolgirls from being used to "comfort" Japanese soldiers.
- An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro. After the war, an artist is confronted by the consequences of his past as a fervent militarist and painter of propaganda posters.
- The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang (whose grandparents escaped the massacre). Provides much historical information about this event. Unfortunately, she committed suicide a few years after writing it.
- In earlier and less brutal times (1878 and 1905, to be specific), but still in Imperial Japan: The Diamond Chariot.
- The Escapist, a tie-in comic from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay features an Animesque version of the character, supposedly a licensed version from a Japanese publisher. Playing with the original's typical Golden Age anti-axis themes, this version is an ex-kamikaze pilot who miraculously survived and is sent on a mystical quest to free the souls of all the people his father, a 731 Mad Scientist, tortured and killed. The book wryly acknowledges that a real Japanese would never come up with this sort of story, implying the creator was actually Clay working under a pseudonym, trying in his own strange way to convince the Japanese to own up to their unfortunate past. Unsurprisingly, this version was said to be a massive flop.
- Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein is an SF novel written about a year before Pearl Harbor. In it, Imperian Japan has fused with the rest of Asia and conquered North America. Atrocities ensue. This novel was written in response to the imperial excesses of Japan at the time.
- Also Pan-Asian sentiment, something you see in H.G. Wells's 'the coming war' or whatever it was called. Something Japan has been advocating since the mid-1800s.
- Interestingly, Heinlein was working from a treatment by the incredibly influential (and equally incredibly racist) editor John Campbell, and actually toned the man's racism much, much down. Sixth Column still ended as one of his most racist works, if not the one.
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven explores the main character's imprisonment in a POW camp in the Philippines, run under a brutal, crazy Japanese soldier, who beat a US soldier to death while working in the mines. There is one sympathetic Japanese soldier, who used to sneak the main character food. He's shot in the escape.
- Tarzan and The Foreign Legion, the last written of the initial Tarzan novels, written appropriately in AprilJune 1944 in Honolulu during the author's service as a war correspondent.
- Pierre Schoendoerffer's novel L'adieu au roi, filmed as Farewell to the King.
- James Clavell's novel King Rat is set in a Japanese POW camp during WW2.
- Lord Russell's Knights of Bushido is an ironically-named non-fiction account of systematic and random atrocities carried out by the Japanese in WW2. It's a fat and copiously illustrated account.
- In An Instinct for War, the stories Human Rain and The Final War feature the Imperial Japanese Army in the Russo-Japanese War and Kanji Ishiwara, respectively.
- The Joker Game franchise all occurs between 1937-1941 focusing on the D Agency, a fictional intelligence agency set up by the Imperial Japanese Army to keep tabs on China and the European powers.
- The plot of the asadora (morning drama) series Oshin begins in 1907 and follows the life of Shin "Oshin" Tanekura through the following decades, giving quite the spotlight to her life through the years prior and during World War II and the fall of the Japanese Empire. It was this close to not be greenlit, however, since it incluided quite the criticism to the classism and the abuse of the poor in the post-isolation years; in the words of its writer, Sugako Hashida, the NHK believed that society was not ready to see such harsh truths.
Sugako Hashida: "The themes were so harsh and dark that the show was rejected by every television network. Even NHK opposed it. I was told "'We can't confront Meiji issues.'""
- Their the main antagonists of Tenko.
- The final opposition for the Red Army during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation in Episode 18 of Soviet Storm: World War II in the East.
- The HBO epic miniseries The Pacific follows a marine as he participates in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific Theater of operations.
- Saigon Singer by Van Wyck Mason dealt with recovering information on collaborators with the Dai Nippon Teikoku.
- March On, Sons of Nippon, song of the British Heavy Metal Tank about them at the start of World War II.
- Shiroyama, the third single off of Sabaton's eighth album, The Last Stand, is about the Battle of Shiroyama, especially the bravery last samurai had in the face of a Curb-Stomp Battle. The 350-500note Satsuma samurai are outnumbered 60:1 and armed with swords against Imperial guns - the fact that they even survive until dawn is impressive.
- One of the Sociopathic Soldiers of Nazi Zombies is Takeo Masaki, an Ax-Crazy Blood Knight obsessed with honor to the point that he tattooed the word inside of his eyelids. Ironically, he's the least crazy of the playable characters.
- Commandos 2. A good portion of the game puts your squad against the Japanese military in the pacific.
- Graviteam Tactics: Nomonhan features the Imperial Japanese Army as a playable side in the battles for Khalkhin Gol.
- The enemies in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun and Pacific Assault for obvious reasons.
- The main foes of the US Marines in the American campaign of Call of Duty: World at War.
- Killer7 deals with the fall and re-emergence of this empire, and the ideals which it believed in. This makes Japan really violent and racist, and leads to them brainwashing American children and destroying democracy in America.
- The first two Shadow Hearts games takes place around World War I. The first involved Japan-occupied Shanghai while the second has the characters travel to Japan.
- The Fighting Game Akatsuki Blitzkampf is ambiented in a dystopian Earth that is clearly inspired by both Those Wacky Nazis and Imperial Japan. The Protagonist, Akatsuki, is an officer of said world's former Imperial Navy, who has spent several years frozen after a botched mission in the Arctic Pole; when he wakes up 50 years after the world's equivalent of WWII, he's pursued by many people due to the knowledge and power he holds.
- Kantai Collection features many ships from the IJN made into Moe Anthropomorphisms, although a number of non-IJN vessels (such as those of the IJA and even some foreign militaries) get the same treatment as well.
- Many games in the 1942 series (the exceptions being 1941: Counter Attack and 19XX: The Battle Against Destiny) have you playing as an American pilot taking on the forces of the IJN. Which is odd, given that the series itself is made by a Japanese company.
- Parodied in Metal Slug 3. The IJA appears in a secret path with so few resources that they use walking tanks -carried by two soldiers with other as commander, that is- and planes that "fly" using a rope and a pulley system.
- One of two playable nations in Rising Storm, with the respective factions being the IJA and IJN Special Landing Forces.
- Cytus has a chapter of tracks representing the history of Taiwan, with "Empire of Japan" depicting Taiwan under Japanese occupation. It is noticably more gentle than most other tracks in the chapter, as Taiwan was one of the better-treated countries by the Japanese Empire.
- The Sakura Wars series primarily takes place in a fictional version of the Taisho period.
- During one of the later arcs of Umineko: When They Cry, Ushiromiya Kinzo has a flashback of his days as an imperial soldier
doing absolutely nothing. Then the Fascist Gold arrives.
- While in Umineko, WWII is merely used as a context for a meeting between two characters, Ryūkishi07's next work Rose Guns Days explores it in much more detail (with a different outcome − Japan is occupied not only by the USA, but also China). One of the protagonists, Leo Shishigami, while conscious in hindsight that "freeing Asia from Western colonialism" was just pretty propaganda, has formed a strong bond with south-eastern Asian fighters he instructed during the war, and in Season 2 goes back to their country to fight with them in the guerilla. Talks about the hell of the front, psychological trauma, but also Japanese responsibility and guilt, or even the way Japanese soldiers tried to justify themselves are quite frequent.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has the Fire Nation, which is essentially Imperial Japan in everything but name, both being large monarchal island nations that began a campaign of imperialism against their land neighbors under the claim of spreading the glory of their nation. Similarly, it's taken over a considerable amount of their land neighbors and treats them as second-class citizens, similar to Koreans. The genocide of the Air Nomads also bears similarities to Japanese war crimes.