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The Dai Nippon Teikoku (Greater Japanese Empire) was the political entity that ran Japan from 1868 to 1945. 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 rather civil civil wars (not that much bloodshed, relatively) 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 Duchies of Satsuma and Choushuu, 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 realised 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 Duchies - 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 big 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 Western countries 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 Duchy of Satsuma.
It is during the Meiji era that Japan established itself as an international power and a colonial Empire. The newly industrialized and modernized Japanese forces allowed the Japanese Empire to field forces almost as good as if not quite on-par with those of China and Russia during the course of the First Sino-Japanese war and the Korean annexation. It was, however, Japan's centralised command system and the abilities of her commanders that saw her come out on top in both engagements. Though outnumbered, their forces were generally (far) better coordinated and more mobile - there are parallels to be drawn with the Franco-Prussian war in this regard.
Paying both the indemnities of the Sino-Japanese War and then the reparations from Boxer Rebllion 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 1911-12. On the other hand, the wars established 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 modernising 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 intitiative 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 in the Western world 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. Still, few outside of Japan were prepared for just how quickly the Japanese were able to gain the upper hand; US President Teddy 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 the West with their first proper glimpse of the (fanatical) bravery of the Imperial Japanese soldiery as well as their willingness to endure both gruelling 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 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 asked by the United States to join an international force to intervene in the Russian Civil War following the collapse of the Tsarist regime. After the United States and its 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, partly due to fears of the spread of Communism so close to Japan and Japanese-controlled Korea and Manchuria but mostly with the aim of establishing a Siberian puppet state to protect Japanese interests from a resurgent Russia. The continued Japanese presence concerned the USA, who suspected that Japan had territorial designs on Siberia and Russian Manchuria. Although Japan later withdrew due to 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 being ordered around by the foreign powers - the United States and other Western powers were much more wary about Japanese imperialist ambitions after that point.
It should be noted that in many of these wars and conflicts, the Western world praised the Japanese for their conduct during the war. 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. The Koreans and Manchurian Chinese, however, present a much more critical view of Japan during this time period, although it is agreed that, overall, the Japanese Imperial forces behaved with restraint--especially in comparison with how they behaved later.
Note, however, that the reign of the Taisho Emperor 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. With the rise of the Showa era in 1926, the Japanese Empire went through the Great Depression. This resulted in the kurai tanima (the Dark Valley), a dark era of militarist fascism 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 keep the soldiers in line as the ultimate source of Japanese brutality during the Second Sino-Japanese War and Pacific Wars. The US reaction to Japanese expansion - 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 United Statian's opinions defined most/all prior and subsequent US-Japanese relations: the day the Imperial Navy attacked the US Pacific Fleet at anchor in Hawaii.
For Japan and China, the war started in 1937 with the Second Sino-Japanese War - although some say the conflict started as early as 1931, when elements of the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Manchuria and established a puppet state. ("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. opium and guns) or heavily taxed (e.g. medium-quality cigarettes). When the Japanese began a full-on invasion of China, it eventually merged into the whole mess that was World War Two. 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. 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.
Mostly forgotten between the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II were the Soviet–Japanese 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 equipment -- especially in the development of armored vehicles since what few tanks they had were all no match for even Soviet light tanks. 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 anywhere between 30 and 50 million people died under the "customary brutality" of Japanese military occupation and the associated famines and epidemics, most of the casualties being civilians. 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. Several apologies from Prime Ministers and the Diet and Japan has paid over 300 billion Yen in war reparations to the nations 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 about the mention of the subject in textbooks makes Asians that lived through the Japanese occupation continue to see the Japanese as generally unrepentant, and is also largely responsible for the country's seemingly cavalier attitude toward its past crimes. It should however 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 Japan Teachers Union led to the book being introduced in a measly 18 of the country's 11,000+ junior high schools.
The Japanese are proud people; admitting such crimes against humanity would be a serious social sin of losing face, and as such, the education system in Japan tends to "whitewash" the more brutal aspects of Japanese history (something non-existent in Germany, where a good chunk of history class is spent on Nazi Germany), pretending little of interest actually happened. This translates to few works of Anime (or other media) referencing this history, even when the work is "historic" in nature, an action that causes Japan's neighbors to take great offense. Then there's the fact that the failure to officially "come clean" has also allowed plenty of scope for Japanese right- wing groups to offer their own revisionist take on the subject, which can be summed up as "we didn't do anything bad to anyone, and if we did, they deserved it," and is if anything even more offensive to Japan's neighbors. There's also some contributions from more extreme or misguided elements of the fandom of Japanese pop culture, good old ultranationalism, as well as plain old trolls (the largest forums in Japanese netspace, 2ch and 2chan, are notorious for racist trolling, some of which is serious), which hasn't helped.
Note that Japan is still officially an Empire (in fact, it's the only country that still has an Emperor.)
Imperial Japan in Anime
- The incompetent, war-crazy Keron Empire in Keroro Gunsou 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. Les Yay 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 Two, where the Values Dissonance between the pacifistic modern-era crew and their Imperial military counterparts is explored.
- 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 Himura, 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 embodment 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 disire 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.
- 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.
- 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 western-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 few Sakura Taisen games are set in a Steampunk Imperial Japan, before going to Gay Paree and The Big Applesauce.
- 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.
- Some of Yuu Watase's works take place in this timeframe:
- Sakura Gari is set in the Tokyo of 1926.
- The Fushigi Yuugi prequel Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden happened early in 1923. Its sequel Fushigi Yuugi Byakko Senki begins the same year (and has the Great Kanto Earthquake as a Wham! Episode) but the bulk of the story takes place in 1933, right after the annexation of Manchuria and the "birth" of the puppet state of Manchukuo.
- In Highschool of the Dead, the Takagi family are Uyoku Dantai -- e.g militant right wing traditionalists, revisionists and ultranationalists. This is admitted outright in the manga but toned down in the anime.
- Night Raid 1931 is set in Manchuria at the beginning of the so-called "Manchurian Incident".
- Some parts of Axis Powers Hetalia take place around the period as well. Uncommonly for Japanese media, Japan himself isn't exactly shown as 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, thus marking quite the big Mood Whiplash.
- 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 is a gekiga manga, written by Japanese war veteran and mangaka Shigeru Mizuki (of GeGeGe no Kitaro fame). 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.
- It's believed that one of the reasons why Blue Comet SPT Layzner was Cut Short is that, aside of losing in ratings to Zeta Gundam, the second part of the story (the Ruu Kain 1999 arc) drew several and not exactly flattering comparisons to the Japanese Empire's arctions in World War Two. More exactly: the Gradosians conquer Earth and commit many terrible crimes that strongly resemble the Empire's cruel treatment of the Korean Peninsula.
- 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.
Imperial Japan in other media
- The Blue Lotus
- The Man Behind The Sun, a Chinese Exploitation Film about the 731 war crimes. The 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.
- 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.
- Also in earlier and less brutal times, the Puccini Opera Madame Butterfly (set in 1904).
- Letters From Iwo Jima, a rare western (and 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.
- 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 & is sent on a mystical quest to free the souls of all the people his father, a 731 Mad Scientist, tortured & killed. The book wryly acknoleges 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.
- Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (also known as Furyou aka the JPN word for "prisoner of war") is a 1983 movie written by Nagisa Oshima and Paul Mayersberg and based on Sir 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). One of the main characters, Major Jack Celliers, was played by David Bowie; the cast also included Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tom Conti, and... Takeshi Kitano, of all people.
- Paradise Road about a Japanese prison camp for female European colonists in Sumatra.
- Akira Kurosawa's 1946 film No Regrets for our Youth is about the persecution of student radicals, ironically from a man who had quite a bit to regret from his own youth in the wartime propaganda film industry.
- Noted Japanese film Auteur Seijun Suzuki's Fighting Elegy uses a schoolboy obsessed with fighting as a metaphor for the early Showa era
- 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.
- Sixth Column by Robert 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.
- 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 for being dirty liars & trying to shame the Japanese nation with untruths 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.
- Pearl Harbor... what? Imperial Japan is in it. For a couple minutes. From the air. Still counts.
- Commandos 2. A good portion of the game puts your squad against the Japanese military in the pacific.
- The R-Rated Opening of The Wolverine involves the bombing of Nagasaki. James "Wolverine" Howlett 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.
- The plot of the asadora (morning drama) series Oshin begins in 1907 and follows the life of Shin "Oshin" Tanekura through the following dewcades, giving quite the spotlight to her life through the years prior and during World War Two 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.