"Japan is not a place which can be controlled by foreigners, for the Japanese are neither so weak nor so stupid a race as to permit this, and the King of Spain neither had nor ever could have any power or jurisdiction here."
- – Alessandro Valignano
Nippon or Nihon, known to foreigners as Wa, Yamatai, Jipon, Riben, Zipangu (plus a thousand spelling variants of that) and (most commonly nowadays) Japan is a country. It is a series of several thousand islands, the exact number of which depends both on the definition of "island" (minimum size) and if you ask them, or either the Russians or the Chinese. Despite the many islands, most of the population is centered on four main ones (Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku). It is nominally an Empire, but of the past thousand years an Emperor has held power beyond figurehead for less then 80 of them. Samurai, Ninja, Oni, Tengu, and Kitsune originate here. The most common religions (and those most likely to have analogs in a fantasy setting) are Shinto, various types of Buddhism and a Christian minority. Unlike many countries, the two major religions aren't entirely mutually exclusive, though no one would outright list their religion as "multiple". It is often said that the Japanese are born Shinto, marry Christian, and die Buddhist. Native systems include Maid RPG, Record of Lodoss War, Queen's Blade, and Zettai Reido as well as the CCGs Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh and Fire Emblem Cipher. The most popular game within the country however is, of all things, Call of Cthulhu. The manga Quick Start!! is also worth a mention.
Japan's history geographically spans several million years and thousands nationally/culturally, but most fiction (even native stuff) and /tg/ only care about the following periods starting at the fairly late 1467. (with occasional rare forays into the Heian period).
- Heian Period (794-1185) - During this period, a distinctly Japanese culture started developing from the earlier Chinese Tang-influenced one. It is considered as somewhat of a high-point of Japan as culture and the imperial court were at their peak, though the shape of things to come could already be seen as the real power rested in the hands of the Fujiwara clan. Its end ushered the familiar fare of clans jockeying for the position of the shogun and thus true power in Japan.
- Sengoku Period (~1467-1603) - A succession crisis over who will become the next shogun, the man who really held power in Japan. Eventually devolves into everyone wanting the pie for himself. While this era lasted for almost 250 years, most only care about the last 40 (1560 onward) or so, when defacto unifier Oda Nobunaga began his rise to power and enough Europeans visited to document the happenings as a neutral enough third party. Everything before this is regarded as a bunch of stalemates for the most part. Gun spam was popular at the last part of this era, leading to the country having more guns per capita than anywhere else in the world at the time and the development of tactics that would last up till the introduction of the metallic cartridge. Near the end of the conflict one of the largest powers led an invasion of the Korean peninsula which ended in a stalemate and withdrawal (since these forces had more important things to do back home). Both sides are still butthurt about it to this day, especially thanks to the repeat during World War II.
- Edo Period (1603-1868) - After the reunification of the land a long period of peace ensued. A few decades into this however a brief Christian rebellion led to the expulsion of foreigners and began the sakoku ("closed state") dictate where minimal outside trade occurred. However, there was still some progress during the seclusion - agricultural tech got advanced and the population markedly increased, Japanese intellectuals like Motoori Norinaga began pondering what it meant to be truly Japanese (apparently it was haiku) and the trade with the Dutch at Nagasaki slowly introduced western learning and science to Japan. This seclusion would last till July 8th 1853 when an American fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo to forcibly reopen trade. This set off a widespread division and panic in the government on what to do.
- Meiji Period (1868-1912) - In 1868-1869 the boy who would become known as Emperor Meiji took advantage of this panic to seize power back from the shogunate in a relatively short and bloodless war. Under his rule the country would refuse to bend over and become a colony like many primitive nations at the time had. It quickly modernized, abolished the caste system, replacing the samurai with a conscript army, and became a world power onto itself. The era is generally seen as a time when the western influences were at odds with Japanese traditions, many of which were perceived as backwards only to be glorified again a few decades later. In 1894-95 Japan would crush China in the Sino-Japanese war and establish itself as the dominant power in Asia. 1904-1905 they would crush Russia in a totally unexpected victory, something that really got them noticed. The era ended with Meiji's death in 1912.
- Taishō Period (1912-1926) - The rule of his son till 1926. Largely seen as a period of stability following the rapid change of the Meiji era. This period is also seen as a time when Japan was experimenting with democracy, seeing the rise of a number of political parties that would eventually be pushed to near-irrelevance once the army junta took sufficient hold on power. The country's entry into World War I is the main thing of note here. During the war the Japanese navy dominated the pacific. This showed the victory in the Russo-Japanese war wasn't a fluke scared the shit out of the rest of the world. Also, Einstein visited Japan in 1922 during his world tour and liked it (especially the women).
- Shōwa Period (1926-1989) - The rule of his son. Best known for the country's role in World War II. The politics became increasingly influenced by the military and the "evil customs" of the past (aka. Shinto, Samurai and Bushido) returned in a forceful but arguably corrupted manner. While this era would last up till the Emperor's death in 1989, the Emperor was reduced to a figurehead after the country's defeat in 1945 (and it's debatable if he was more than a puppet for the past several years before that). Thanks to the US needing a bulkhead against communist China and the industriousness of the people, Japan recovered quickly and sprang up to be the second most powerful economy on the planet before crony capitalism and financial speculation brought it all down in the 90s. Imperial Japan was in some respects worse than the Nazis, as at times Japan went to extremes that even the fucking Nazi's found disturbing during WW2. Considering the acts of absolute barbarism they committed to POW's and civilians it's a little surprising the allies accepted their surrender at the end of the war and didn't keep nuking the country until it was glass. And instead of owning up to the Asian holocaust, they cover it up and teach the bare minimum about the war. Then whine about being the only country to be nuked, while covering up the why to their own citizens. While whining when any other country brings up why they still hate them for the fucked up shit they did. TLDR they were racist genocidal rapist assholes who were planning to get a sweetheart deal by surrendering to the Soviets. They were more scared of an Communist invasion of their homeland than they were of nuclear bombs.
- Post-War Heisei and Reiwa periods (1989-20XX) - Beyond this Japan is just another first-world country for /tg/ purposes. The two most acute issues Japan is facing are the demographic decline and the threat of rising China. Very little non-native fiction has modern Japan as it's primary setting, though it is a stock foreign destination. Japan is however a relatively high priority country for games set in the "real world but..." to explain the differences from reality of. The exception is the Cyberpunk genre, where Japan dominates the world culturally and financially since at the time of the genre's origins it was believed that Japan would achieve economic conquest of the world in the future and despite the Lost Decade and other economic setbacks it remains as a tradition of the genre.
Japan has, over the span of almost 2000 years, developed an unique blend of Chinese, Korean and (most recently) Western culture, mixed with their own stuff on top of THAT. There is no single defining characteristic that can describe it, but important elements are - honor, dedication to what one does, family/clan, industriousness and hierarchy. Some of these, such as emphasis on honor and family have been somewhat eroded by modern times, but others like loyalty to one's family/clan/corporation and deference to authority/hierarchy still endure.
One particularity of the Japanese culture is how its language was adapted to the social hierarchy. Japanese language has "politeness levels" - different ways of pronunciation and speaking reserved for those both above and below you on the social ladder. Though in itself complex, the levels can be roughly divided into 3 categories - how you'd speak to your junior/trainee/younger sibling, your equal/coworker/brother&sister and your superiors/bosses/parents&grandparents. At its core it's not that dissimilar form how you'd speak in English in a western setting (you wouldn't address your boss like you would your friend and vice-versa).
Japanese Religion, Gods and Mythology
see also: Mythology
Japanese people have always had a tendency to assimilate stuff from other cultures, most notably China and Korea. Their religion reflect this as they can be said to have "2+1" traditional religions - Shintoism, Buddhism and Christianity. Shintoism is the oldest and effectively the true native religion, being a blend of animism (meaning that all objects & creatures have a spiritual essence and worship is tied to specific places where said spirits reside) and nature/ancestor worship. Buddhism was introduced in 6th century from Korea and tended to blend with Shinto. Christianity is the youngest of the three, having been introduced by St. Francis Xavier in 16th century, it flourished for a time but a combination of distrust, European intrigues and peasant rebellions had the authorities ban it until the late 19th century.
Japanese have their own traditional form of magic and it can be grouped in two broad categories.
The first one is Kotodama or "soul of language" and it is basically using the true-name type of magic to the extreme. Using specific sounds, it was believed that one could influence objects, environment, body and the soul itself.
The second comes in the form of Japanese witches. Unlike western ones which were said to derive their powers form the Devil, the Japanese breed gained their prowess form forming pacts with fox familiars. Once a fox was bribed (oftentimes promised a steady supply of food and shelter) it would confer to their witch/wizard many powers, usually related to trickery and subterfuge. A fox could turn invisible and used for spying, create illusions to trick their enemies and most feared of all - posses another human being and make them do their bidding. While lone foxes being aided were often benevolent, if one was employed by a human, they were almost always used for nefarious purposes.
Self Defense Force
After World War II, Japan was hated and feared by the Allied Powers, and unlike West Germany it was not seen as a critical barrier to Soviet invasion. As such Japan was forced to adopt a constitution that prohibited an army, navy or air force and renounced the right to belligerency. As the Cold War heated up, NATO realized Japan was critical to preventing Communist dominance of the Pacific. Accordingly Japan was able to exploit a loophole and create a "self defense force" that was an army in all but name. Said Self-Defense Force, as the name implies, has full authority to deal with domestic threats like terrorists and pirates threatening Japanese shipping, but any sort of offensive or overseas actions are more rigidly controlled and require the cooperation of the United States, per the bilateral security treaty.
While not the latest tech, the JSDF's equipment is absolutely modern and contains plenty of armored vehicles. Their main rifle is the Type 89, a pretty straightforward AR-18 variant that uses STANAG (M16) magazines. Unlike the British AR-18 variant, the Type 89 actually works since 1: They had the original AR-18 specs (Howa was previously subcontractor for manufacturing the AR-18) instead of a crude copy by people who never used a firearm before 2: It wasn't built by workers who knew they were going to be fired immediately afterwards. Improvements like free-floating and optics mounting are considered, but budgetary concerns prevent adoption. In December 2019 it was announced such an upgrade would finally be adopted after winning a trial, but if that will actually occur is unknown.
By the numbers, the Maritime Self Defense Force is at worst a match for the Russian Federation's Pacific Fleet, though would be heavily outnumbered if the Arctic fleet or Baltic fleet reinforced them (reinforcements from the Black Fleet however are unlikely). While it technically has no aircraft carriers, the JMSDF has four "helicopter destroyers" (two Izumo-class, and two slightly older, shorter Hyuga-class) that were quite clearly designed with a conversion or variant that carries fixed wing aircraft in mind. The obviously intended conversion of the Izumo-class into proper aircraft carriers was announced in December of 2018 and caused more than a bit of butt-hurt in Korea. The rest of Japan's surface fleet consists mostly of destroyers in a variety of classes, most of which are derivatives of the USN's Arleigh Burke class, complete with the AEGIS system.
By the same post-war Constitution, Japan is expressly forbidden from having nuclear weapons, and their history with them makes the vast majority of the population OK with that. They do however have a large nuclear power industry (Or rather they did, before the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster made them think twice) and a space program, so there's no doubt they could easily make some and ICBMs to go with it if they wanted to, but they don't waste money on that when America already has got them covered.
Japan Analogs in Fantasy
- Nippon of Warhammer Fantasy
- The Tau Empire of Warhammer 40000
- Kozakura and Wa of Kara-Tur
- Jinin, The Forest of Spirits and Minkai of Golarion. Less direct analogs in the setting include Shokuro, Shenmen, and Chu Ye.
- Kamigawa of Magic the Gathering
- Rokugan from Legend of the Five Rings, though while culturally Japanese it takes great influence from many other Asian cultures.
Why living in Japan sucks
Despite what Weeaboos would have you believe, living in Japan stinks. Not only do they still treat minorities like shit, but their police force is also worse than any Western nation you can name and are utterly corrupt. A 99%+ conviction rate is impossible without at least a quarter of that being false testimonies. In Japan everything is expensive and just about everyone is underpaid, as this is what happens when you fetishize a business culture and without a bunch of crappy books written as fetish fuel by some Russian whore.
Like Meat? Love Taco Bell or hamburgers? Too bad, it costs way too much. Want to buy mecha models, figures or BluRay discs from your favorite anime? That too, is overpriced. Remember when we said that people are underpaid? Well, your favorite mango and animu artists are as well and are working themselves to death, for what barely counts as minimum wage. The idiots over 50 in the Diet and elsewhere then wonder why their birthrate is falling. The obvious answer is that if young people don't have money to own a home, they're not going to give a flying shit about making babies. Hell, the people who do want to start families oftentimes find that they can't do the nasty because they're still living with their parents and the walls are paper-thin (sometimes literally), so there's a whole industry of "love hotels" just so couples can actually find a place to do it.
Additionally they were never 'de-imperialised' the same way the Germans were 'denazified' following the WWII, which goes some way to explain why the Chinese and both Koreas still hold grudges from the Second World War (despite the South Koreans and Japan sharing a
sugar daddy powerful ally in the form of the United States), in a way that the Germany and Israel do not. If you have an older family member over the age of 50, they may still hold a grudge about this as well. Oddly enough, Taiwan does not care that as much since it would rather focus its hate against the mainland communists and many have good memories of the island's modernization under Japan.
On top of all that is the fact that you are one of two nations that tend to get a front-row seat to the nuclear saber-rattling between the North Koreans and the Americans. Indeed, due to World War Two grudges, those sabers are often rattled at you. Additionally having so many U.S. bases means that if something ever does start between the U.S. and China, you are going to have a front row seat to that "World War Three push here to start button" even if you'd rather not. (It doesn't help that China holds grudges like a dwarf and while they may not want to attack their third largest trading partner, they won't shed any tears if they have to regardless of whether or not the U.S. maintains a presence on your islands).
You don't have to live in Japan just because you love the country/culture, but if you absolutely must, be prepared for a lot of grueling language study (the Japanese have three alphabets and roughly three "politeness levels" that you must learn to properly nativise). Also, you better have an income of about 4-5k $ per month if you hope to live in one of the bigger cities and at least 7-8k$ if you plan on having a family. One often tried way to get in is by becoming an English teacher but for that you need college-level education and special training, because if there is one thing even detractors of Japan must admit it is that they are DEAD serious about the quality of their education.
Overall: Japan has issues, not insurmountable ones nor one totally unique to it, but they are perhaps more exacerbated then most other developed nations and certainly not helped by the geopolitics of the region.
However, with the incompetence of the (right wing) Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, their economy has been in a recession for over twenty years. So an economic depression will happen long before any reforms are made. By then Japanese citizens will have no choice but to wise up or risk living in what will become a failed state.