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A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes This a Useful Notes page. A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes
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Across the sea, corpses in the water
Across the mountains, corpses in the field
I shall die only for the Emperor

I shall never look back
—Anthem of the Imperial Japanese Navy
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Japan, 1867. Commodore Perry has visited Japan to display some Gunboat Diplomacy a decade-and-a-half or so ago, and the potential onslaught of Westerners to dominate Japan the way they did the rest of Asia has galvanized a clique of low-ranking samurai from the southern fiefdoms of Satsuma and Chōshū into leading their Western-style private armies against the Tokugawa Shogunate. They seize the boy-Emperor Mutsuhito at his Residence in Kyoto before the Shogun can secure him. The Shogun is dealt a heavy PR-blow by this, and many lesser Daimyos refuse to come to his aid as it would appear that they were going against the Emperor. The Shogun's forces slug it out, but are eventually driven off Honshu entirely and flee to Hokkaido where they set up a short-lived Republic in Hakodate. Eventually, this too falls, and Japan is more or less united under a new government, which moves the Emperor to Edo (renamed Tokyo) and proclaims the start of the Meiji ("Enlightened Rule") era.

To cut a long story short, the government was much more powerful than it was before. Its new powers were ostensibly based upon the "restored" power of the Emperor -- restored to what it was in Legend, that is. Hence, "restoration" and not "revolution". The oligarchy of southern middle-class ex-samurai hid behind the Emperor, using him as a rallying point for State Shinto and Japanese Nationalism.

History is a fickle thing, for if Perry had not returned to America due to the American Civil War, Japan may not have had the chance to so peacefully develop itself into Imperial Japan. Noting how China (the hegemonic power of East Asia for millennia) wasn't doing so well these days, and how it seemed to have a lot to do with the Imperial European powers, Japan decided that China was no longer the centre of learning and culture they had acknowledged it as for the last thousand years, and figured that it was time for another radical change. Where before, Japan had adopted Chinese religion, culture, medicine and natural science with a view to incorporating them into their own understanding of the world, now it was time to take on Western Science and medicine, to industrialize and become an Imperial power... hopefully, without losing sight of what it meant to be Japanese in all other respects. Broadly, they succeeded. A postal service from Britain, a School system from France, a Prussian Constitution -- thus the trappings of democracy like voting and elections and parties without actually granting the resultant MPs any real powers -- and so on.

In a fanatic stance change to hold the West in awe, some went as far as advocating for women to marry Western men to bring "superior genetic stock" into Japan, the women's opinions notwithstanding. In short, the West was the new China, and this called for a revision in all their administrations. There was very quickly a backlash against this sort of attitude, and there was a certain crisis of identity caused by the rapid changes in Japanese society. There was a renewed emphasis on retaining an essential Japanese-ness, which after flirting with Social Darwinism manifested itself in the form of a burgeoning belief in Japanese supremacy, not inferiority. Because, they reasoned, who else could come so far in so short a time? This was clearly a demonstration of the Japanese people's innate superiority, above and beyond that of the European powers. Japan could do all they could -- Imperialism and everything -- and do it better.

By the turn of the century, it had a fledgling modern army and navy. The army and navy proved themselves during the Sino-Japanese War, in which the Japanese emerged clearly victorious, and the Russo-Japanese War in which the Japanese managed to (barely) trounce the Tsarist forces, who didn't feel like going to the expense of a protracted war which they would have won. The war appeared to end in a Japanese victory, with ceasefire negotiated by Theodore Roosevelt in the Treaty of Portsmouth. This created major ripples in the world -- a tiny Asian power beating Russia? -- leaving many considering Japan's potential. Japan believed they had learned an important lesson: respect was gained and maintained via the use of a plenitude of modern military hardware. The Social Darwinists rejoiced: what clearer sign could there be that the Japanese were a people ascendant, not just a "fitter" race, but the fittest?

Japan joined World War I late on the side of the Allies, and received a nominal share of the rewards, including most of Germany's imperial possessions in the Pacific. They also developed an imperialist attitude towards China to match the Western powers, forcing numerous concessions from the Chinese. Ultra-nationalist sentiment abounded, and the military, having cast itself as the creator and guarantor of Japan's new place in the world, seized virtually all power, often by killing people who got in their way.

The army led Japan into an invasion of China, which was initially successful but ultimately proved an open-ended manpower sump: China was simply too large and had too many people to conquer outright. Japan could not find enough manpower to do more than take and hold several major cities and the roads that linked them. However, the invasion in turn committed Japan to a dangerous clash of interests and sentiments with America and Britain. The US in particular felt a somewhat paternal attitude towards the Chinese and embargoed strategic goods, such as oil, in response to continued Japanese aggression in China, while Japan was heavily relying on America to fuel its industrial progress.

Japan, running out of options, believed it had to take and hold new sources of oil and strategic minerals. It also believed (quite possibly wrongly) that it would have to fight America if it tried to take the Dutch and British possessions that had the things it needed. Thus, Japan launched a surprise assault on Pearl Harbor, home of the US Pacific Fleet, to buy themselves enough time to take and fortify the areas they thought they needed. But America understandably took this very personally, being attacked without receiving a formal declaration of war quickly enough[1]. Following this were a series of invasions of British, Dutch, Australian and American territories throughout the Pacific. But Japan had, by Pearl Harbor, bought itself a long war that its industry and economy could not sustain. Outfought and outproduced, they were pushed back across the Pacific over the course of the next two years by a resurgent USA, with assistance from Australia and New Zealand. The Imperial Navy, after performing well in the opening battles, was shattered by several major defeats. Japan's island garrisons were either left to rot on the vine or were subjected to overwhelming assault and suffered hideous losses. Finally Japan was bombed, burned, and flattened by the rather grisly General Curtis LeMay. Still unwilling to surrender, Japan was subjected to the atomic bomb; while its necessity is debated to this day, the belief at the time was that this would prevent the need for a repeat of the grisly battles in Iwo Jima and Saipan, where Japanese forces had fought nearly to the last man, most Japanese civilians had committed suicide rather than accept an Allied occupation, and the Allies, despite winning the battle, lost many men. An invasion of the Japanese mainland, it was thought, would result in the deaths of millions, making the loss of a few hundred thousand a small price to pay.

In the aftermath of the first atomic bombing (on Hiroshima), the government continued its refusal to surrender unconditionally, while in private, the emperor prepared for the inevitable. One A-bomb later, and Japan declared its surrender on 15 August, 1945 (mostly at the behest of the emperor, over the heads of military brass who still wanted to keep fighting). This was fortunate for the US, because they had no more atomic bombs left. The military complex of Imperial Japan was forcibly dismantled, governmental power was effectively handed over to the US military (with General MacArthur having the final say on anything the Diet did), and land and economic reforms were made to break the power of the zaibatsu (big industrial corporations), who had formed a core part of the military-industrial complex. While democratic reforms had their intended effect, many of the economic ones were rolled back in the face of the Korean War, and it was ramping up industrial production to help out the US in this conflict that started Japan's economic recovery in earnest. Control of the country was handed back to the Japanese in 1952, and at the same time, a National Safety Force (later renamed the Self-Defence Force) was formed. This was born out of the rise of hostile Communist governments in East Asia (including China, who had a score to settle with Japan) and the realization that Japan would be effectively helpless with Occupation troops increasingly called upon to fight elsewhere. Its creation was bitterly contested well into even the 1980s, despite assurances of civilian control and non-belligerence, and its naming (which borders on Most Definitely Not a Military) reflects this; even so, politicians continue to battle over just what the Japanese military's role should be in modern world affairs.

Tropes used in Katanas of the Rising Sun include:
  • Awesome but Impractical: The IJN had a nasty tendency towards wanting to have the biggest and baddest of something, regardless of its actual use. Case in point the Yamato-class battleship: when it was launched it was the most powerful class of a line of ship that had just been rendered obsolete. The Yamato went on to a borderline-embarrassing career of being held back from fighting as she was too slow to keep up with the carrier forces (her nickname was Hotel Yamato, and it was not a compliment), and when she finally was committed to battle the gunnery of her huge main guns was remarkably poor, never scoring a hit. Her sister ship Musashi never even got this far, having been sunk by carrier aircraft before even seeing an enemy vessel. Yamato's second and final mission saw her and 5 of her escorts at the bottom of the Pacific, managing to down a piddling 12 American planes in the process.
  • Badass Navy : The IJN. Initially.
    • The Imperial Japanese Army almost counts as a Badass Army because it had such an incredible amount of pluck. But it had almost no sophistication or finesse unlike the Imperial Japanese Navy, and Allied troops tended to fairly commonly "give" several times better then what they "received" from the IJA. The reverse was true, however, for the vast bulk of the action it saw during the wars; most Chinese 'troops' were irregulars - that is to say, militiamen - and they were almost universally ill-equipped and ill-led, and even more poorly coordinated. An exception would be the Chinese Nationalists' 'German' divisions, which were largely wiped out at the Battle of Shanghai, and their Expeditionary Force in Burma, which was trained and equipped (and supplied, and led, and coordinated) to US Army standards.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Suicidal or near suicidal behavior in desperate circumstances actually had many examples in World War II among many belligerents; it was rare among Americans only because of their limited and relatively 'comfortable' involvement - exceptions like Torpedo Squadron Eight abound, of course. It is very easy to dismiss this attitude as being uniquely Japanese, but to do so dismisses the universality of desperation and self-sacrifice. Most war-time examples fell under suicide by enemy, and the suicidal tactics of some Imperial personnel are in many ways a more extreme extension upon this principle. Suicide as atonement for failure was, however, unique to Japan; Japanese culture romanticised - and still romanticises - suicide to a degree almost unheard of elsewhere. Also worth noting are the cultural understandings of surrender; through most of the world it was - and is - not usually considered a disgrace to surrender as long as one has put up a damned good fight - especially when continuing to fight serves no purpose. In contemporary Japan, there was no such thing as (honourable) surrender.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Some Americans felt this toward the Chinese - they felt they had done a lot to prevent China from being carved up between the other Imperial powers, for instance, as a result of their 'Open Door' policy to China. Likewise the Japanese government promoted this kind of pan-Asian-solidarity as a post-facto means of legitimating their Asian Empire.
    • The Japanese legitimately believed their propaganda. Tojo was crying during the formation of the East Asia Prosperity Sphere
  • Cannon Fodder: The Imperial Japanese Army was notoriously callous about the lives of its troops. Nicknames for the common infantryman such as "senrin" (after the price of mailing a conscription notice) or "teppodama" (literally "bullets", in being that expendable). The Imperial Navy achieved this reputation among its airmen during their duty in the South Pacific: of the pilots who went to Rabaul, almost none ever came back, the IJN's pre-war aviators wasting away under the strain of combat in the most malignant theater in which a major war has ever been fought. Pilots were known to state that no one went home unless they were dead.
    • Averted in China, where those tactics were very effective against Chinese armies disorganized by warlordism and civil war.
      • Also averted in the Philippines where General Homma was conservative with his troops, to the point of being criticized by other officers.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: During World War II it was known to tie the wounded to a tree, torture them and leave them with a sign that said "It took him a long time to die". Naturally, the Allies didn't like that..
    • A common favorite of Japanese soldiers was to force bayonet blades or katanas into the vaginas of non-Japanese Asian women.
    • Also notorious is when Japanese soldiers in trucks held bayonets and katanas off the side as they drove past the POWs of the Bataan Death March.
  • Combat Aestheticist: Japanese were into this in a big way, often to the detriment of pragmatism.
  • Complexity Addiction: The Imperial Japanese Navy had a serious problem with creating incredibly complex battle plans which involved a half-dozen groups of ships that couldn't support each other or be easily controlled. Such practices cost them the services of at least six carriers in 1942 alone: Shoho at Coral Sea, Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu at Midway, and Ryujo in the Solomons. While as theories their plans were often highly elegant, they were also stupidly vulnerable to Murphy's Law and usually incredibly optimistic.
  • Cool Plane: The Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 Naval Fighter, otherwise known as the Zero. Paid a unique tribute among Japanese aircraft in that most Allied pilots referred to it using the diminutive of its name rather than its assigned Allied codename, the Zero was quite probably the best dogfighting aircraft of the Second World War and had incredible range, with a combat radius of over 550 miles. But it lacked engine power, armor, sufficient quantities of ammunition, and self-sealing fuel tanks. Never outturned, the Zero proved a death trap in the face of later Allied fighters that could easily outclimb, outdive, and outrun it.
  • Cool Ship: Japanese destroyers were feared in the Solomon Islands. They were well commanded and tended to get the better in night surface actions for a long time.
    • Japan had, hands down, the best heavy cruisers in the world. A larger main battery than US ships (and much larger than British ships), comparable armoring, and torpedo tubes to boot. It wasn't until the post-war Des Moines-class CA that the US produced a truly superior ship, via automatic 8" guns.
  • Cool Torpedo: The Type 93 "Long Lance".
  • Cool Versus Awesome: IJN versus USN. The two of the best navies of World War II; even the closest runner-up, the Royal Navy, simply didn't have the doctrine, the modern ships, or the aircraft to have fought either of them. This couldn't contrast more when comparing the IJA and US Army, however. The US Army had a huge advantage over the IJA in terms of logistics, supplies, armament, fire support, and tanks. They were both about even in number.
  • Crowning Moment of Awesome: Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War. Albeit the Russians had to fight on foreign waters halfway across the globe.
    • Their simultaneous invasions of the Philippines, Malaysia + Singapore and the East Indies count. Heck, the fact that they could hold off the US as much as they did (it could have done much better in several battles) is a case of sheer awesomeness.
  • Sinking Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya.
    • The rescue of the dying garrison on Guadalcanal could also qualify.
      • Some of the naval battles in Guadalcanal too.
  • Cultured Warrior: Well, that was the samurai stereotype anyway. But don't expect much from the troops.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: The Battle of Malaya, and following that the Battle of Singapore, lasting a grand total of 77 days.
    • The wrong end: most later operations in New Guinea. At least once the casualty ratio climbed to well over 1000 Japanese to 1 Australian.
    • Battle of the Philippine Sea and Battle of Leyte Gulf. They pretty much destroyed the Japanese Navy and Airforce.
    • Six months after the empire declared war on Britian and the US, every battle turned into this in favor of the Allies. Iwo Jima, Saipan, The (land) Battle of Leyte, the Phillipines Campaign, etc. The latter had 14,000 American and Australian soldiers killed, and 340,000 Japanese soldiers killed. Though in some battles, usually between the Japanese and British (the Burma and Boreno campaigns come to mind), the losses were about even. Which is the closest the Japanese came to winning.
    • The Soviet invasion of Manchuria. It makes sense, since Japan had pulled back its best and most loyal soldiers to the island, their marines, navy, and airforce had been wiped out, and the majority of the forces in Manchuria were poorly equipped and low-morale conscripts, but damn.
  • Cycle of Revenge: While in the beginning there was sometimes a feeling that it was just business, later the mutual racial prejudice that they started with and the atrocities committed made it different.
    • Europe, at least in the Western theaters, had more of the Just Business attitude toward it then the Pacific. Oddly enough it may be reversed now and less resentment may remain toward the Japanese then the Germans. Your Mileage May Vary.
      • The Eastern Front of Europe (the "Great Patriotic War") was pretty bloody and now East Asian countries hate the Japanese, though the hate is mutual in the main light-skinned 'Sinosphere' nations (China, Korea and Japan).
  • Determinator: Do we really need examples?
    • Because of the nature of ocean warfare, the entire conflict between Japan and the U.S. boiled down to a contest of who could out-determine the other. A lack of resources meant that Japan didn't have the long-term replenishment capacity of the U.S., but because of Pearl Harbor, they started out with a head start and more ships on the balance sheet. If Japan blinked first, they would sue for a beggar's peace and likely give up their Pacific conquests with harsh terms. If America blinked first, they would see the time and effort of rebuilding their fleet to recapture those conquests as not being worth the cost. And say what you will, but as time passed and Japan's new territory shrunk island by island, ending with hundreds of thousands of Allied troops poised to invade the home islands themselves, they never blinked.
    • Some holdouts continued fighting the war for up to thirty years after it was over. In a few cases, they had to actually locate the former commanding officers of those units and bring them to the remnant soldiers to convince them to surrender.
  • David Versus Goliath: In all of its major campaigns, Japan (and later, their small empire of Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Manchuria) was out of its weight classification. This was modified by the fact that the Russian Empire was a Vestigial Empire at the time, wracked with financial problems and having to fight Japan halfway across the globe, the Dutch East Indies were in disarray following the Netherland's defeat in Europe and taken my surprise, and China was a poor and low tech nation in the middle of a civil war. But the last time around was a very different matter; Japan could never have mustered the economic and logistical power to defeat the United States, the richest nation on the planet, and one of the most high tech. The best it could have hoped for (and indeed, it was the grand strategy for the war) was to press the U.S. and inflict such damage that they would deem it not worth the trouble and expense to rebuild and recapture their conquered territories. At their most mouth-frothingly optimistic, there were plans to capture Hawaii, perhaps after a Curb Stomp Battle at Midway wiped away most of the surviving American forces, but those never made it off the drawing board.
  • Eats Babies : Some comfort women (read as "forced sex slaves") testify that some Japanese men brought meat stew for them and made them eat it, then laugh and reveal that they were chopped remains of babies cut out from other sex slaves they impregnated (and their mothers strangled with their intestines).
  • The Empire
  • Enemy Civil War: The bureaucrats of the IJN and IJA had this going on constantly. This is not uncommon of course, but in this case it was taken to extremes that severely hurt Japan's war effort.
    • The entire war against America was arguably the result of an Enemy Civil War within the IJN; Headquarters didn't want to attack Pearl Harbor or the Philippines. Combined Fleet did, and their entire staff threatened to resign if not allowed to, in essence hijacking the strategic planning process. Midway came about in almost the exact same way.
    • From Japan's perspective, this helped them a lot in the Second-Sino Japanese War.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Ironically enough, Imperial Japan was one of the friendliest nations to fleeing Jewish refugees, refusing to hand over its tiny Jewish population to the Nazis and not questioning the large number of exit visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, Japanese consul to Lithuania. Compare this to the relative indifference towards Jewish refugees exhibited by the US, UK, and other Allied powers at roughly the same time period.
    • A possible explanation for some of this is that Japanese government officials in the late 19th and early 20th centuries read anti-Semitic literature about how Jews had supposedly grown rich by exploiting Christians, but not having the Christian background that such anti-Semitism was based on, interpreted it to mean that Jews had magical money powers or extremely good business sense.
    • Some Nazis expressed this attitude towards the Japanese campaign in China.
  • Final Battle: The Battle of Iwo Jima.
    • Iwo Jima and Okinawa were more like long sieges and were something of a Last Stand (not a Villain Last Stand as not all were villains though a number were). Leyte Gulf is more like this trope because it was more dramatic, and it was the final sea battle which in a predominately naval theater made it at least a good candidate, even though there was considerable land fighting afterwards. Leyte was also the last large fleet action ever to be fought - some say in all of time.
    • Operation Olympic/Coronet, the invasion of the Home Islands, would have been the ultimate in final battles as far as WW 2 went, with even its planners describing it as a "blood-soaked apocalypse". Fortunately, the atomic bomb rendered it unnecessary.
  • For the Evulz: Some of the things Japanese grunts did for fun are truly horrifying and pointless. For example, see Eats Babies.
  • Four-Star Badass : Admiral Togo Heihachiro, victor of Tsushima (Russo-Japanese War), was the Folk Hero of the IJN. And with good reason. He led the IJN to victory where IJA had failed miserably.
    • Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: ambitious, politically adroit, intelligent, and with a gift for picking good subordinates, he was a prophet of air power and managed to reach nearly the pinnacle of his profession despite having advocated some extremely unpopular causes. Yet Yamamoto's strategic vision ultimately failed him; Pearl Harbor was a resounding victory but ensured that the United States would never seek a negotiated settlement and thereby cost Japan the war, while sending Shokaku and Zuikaku to support the Coral Sea operation cost Japan its margin of superiority in carriers and lead directly to the annihilation of First Air Fleet at Midway.
    • Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. Regarded by his adversaries as the only competent Japanese carrier commander of the war, he was renowned in his own Navy for his intellect and his outspokenness; any mention of Ozawa will invariably quote one of his staff as saying he "did not suffer fools gladly."
  • Insane Troll Logic: The Allies "forced" Japan to attack them by refusing to sell their own oil which Japan of course absolutely needed to sustain their brutal colonization of China.
    • Insane Troll Logic, or rather the realization of it, is the reason why the Japanese public grew to hate the military fairly quickly after the Battle of Saipan, when it became obvious even through the propaganda that Japan was in way over its head.
  • God-Emperor: Hirohito was treated like this, as were earlier Emperors.
    • This had a political purpose as well. It represented an anchor in the past during the Meji Reformation.
    • Post-War M Acarthur forced the Emperor to deny he was divine in a speech but it was not the best phrased and was ambiguous, apparently.
  • Government Conspiracy: Elements in the Imperial Japanese Army. It is hard, even in retrospect, to be sure who really ruled Japan at the time. General MacArthur has muddled this even further, because the US Army needed the Emperor to make the Japanese population cooperate, and portrayed the Emperor as an innocent puppet ruler.
    • Hideki Tojo was officially the Prime Minister of course, but he was so unassertive in personality compared to Mussolini and Hitler that one might almost think he was chosen to be a puppet.
      • Tojo might have seemed unassertive, but he was a high level military guy, with a reputation for being charismatic and sharp minded, it's doubtful he was a puppet, but he couldn't effectively control the Japanese war machine, and it's worth noting that he started facing stiff opposition from the military once they started losing.
    • For much of the 30s and 40s, you can just say "the military ruled Japan".
    • To be precise, Japan was a military-industrial anarchy, more or less. There wasn't even a single cabal of generals that did all the decisions (primarily because their own juniors frequently assassinated them for not being militaristic enough!). It was an Emperor with a defined but small power, and a military force with an undefined but massive power.
  • Honor Before Reason: Or "honor without reason."
    • As an example: When the US landed at Guadalcanal, there were 16 Japanese divebombers sitting at Rabaul loaded for a ground-attack mission against a target in New Guinea. They did not have the range to strike Guadalcanal and return, nor were they armed with weapons that could significantly harm a ship. The divebombers were ordered to attack at once. This gesture was absolutely relished by apparently every involved officer except the squadron leader, but it cost them sixteen perfectly good aircraft and twenty-eight veteran aircrew for nothing.
  • How the IJN stole Christmas : "Yesterday Dec 7, 1941..."
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: The Yamato. Which did almost nothing but is the most famous ship in the IJN because it was the largest battleship and thus fulfills the Rule of Cool.
    • It may not even have been the most effective as a battleship(and battleships in World War II were more supporting cast then stars). The Iowa class was arguably the most advanced battleship design ever built and had a number of advantages like superior fire control, superior damage control, more advanced armor and antiaircraft and so on. The Yamato and the Mushashi however were the biggest for whatever that was worth. Unfortunately for Japan, that just made them instinctively think them Too Awesome to Use.
      • Furthermore, although the Yamatos were the largest battleships ever built in terms of their tonnage (the usual means of measuring a ship's size), for what it's worth the Iowas are slightly longer.
    • Also katanas, though perhaps "impossible" in the other direction. The Japanese soldiers were kind of obsessed with blade weapons, going so far as to stick bayonets on machine guns.
    • Many of the IJN's destroyer designs, but in particular the Shimakaze. 45 knots flat out for an extended period, fifteen torpedo tubes to sink an entire opposing squadron at a crack, six 5" guns. The most powerful destroyer of the Second World War. Like Yamato, she did barely anything worthy of mentioning and was destroyed by overwhelming air attack along with nearly her entire task force.
  • Improvised Weapon: Kamikazes. The rocket-fueled suicide planes were designated "Ohka" (Cherry Blossom), but they were so worthless that someone in the Pentagon named them "Baka" (Idiot). Ohkas played a role in the loss of a Japanese carrier transporting them, which is one more than the number of US carriers they sunk. The American name turned out to be apter.
    • Kaiten, glorified torpedoes with room for a man to guide them. Evidence suggests that they were actually less effective than standard torpedoes.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: The IJN officers had cheap, mass-produced katana that were used for torture and executions rather then fighting. Of course, fervent about the samurai spirit they did use these for combat but few if any were trained in their proper combat use, and often broke or chipped their swords.
    • Indeed, the Katanas also caused said officers to have a Highly-Conspicuous Uniform on the battlefield, and they often found themselves drawing fire from the American troops as a result.
  • The Laws and Customs of War: Played straight and then subverted later. Interestingly the Japanese were complimented widely for their gracious adherence to this during the Russo-Japanese war. They did not have this reputation during World War II.
  • Last Stand: Banzai charges, which can be summed up as "there's no question that we're gonna die here, so let's do it awesomely and take down as many of them as we can too."
    • As a practical matter, however, they were silliness of the first order; a massed assault was WWI stuff (and the sort of propagandized insanity that got people worked up to them belonged to wars hundreds of years older than that), and artillery and the machine gun had grown both more numerous and deadlier since their days of breaking such assaults on the Somme. The results were... predictable, and the Japanese would have been better served by staying on the defensive.
  • Karmic Death: The architects of the US firebombing campaign considered it a justified response to Japanese atrocities. After the war Japan was essentially a pre-Industrial Age wasteland with almost no cities still standing and came very close to mass famine as their transport system was in ruins.
  • Karma Houdini: Arguably many Japanese officers and grunts from the war. Particularly the ruling family.
  • Leave No Survivors: The armed forces of Imperial Japan during WW 2 came frighteningly close to treating this as standard operating procedure.
    • US soldiers in the Pacific Theater came pretty close too for various reasons.
  • Made of Explodium: The "Long Lance" was a scarily good torpedo. But it got its range and speed from using pure oxygen (where other torps would have compressed air). A lot of destroyers (and several cruisers) were lost when their torpedoes exploded.
  • Never Live It Down: In parts of East Asia, Japan's reputation can still come off like this and with some justifiable reason. Let's just leave it at that.
  • Off with His Head: Japanese soldiers used to have contests to see who could decapitate the most Chinese prisoners. This even made positive headlines in papers back in Tokyo.
  • Older Than They Think: Japan's ambitions for a trans-Pacific empire date to 1798, when Honda Toshiaki, actually opposing British imperialism, said Japan should rule the entire Pacific Rim and relocate the capital to Kamchatka, because Kamchatka, being at the same latitude as London, would have the same climate.
  • Only Sane Man: Isoroku Yamamoto, mentioned above, seemed to be the only man in the country that thought an unprovoked attack on America might be a bad idea... at least in his diary. He's often portrayed as having openly protested or denounced it, but most of the quotes attributed to him may have actually been apocryphal. More recent scholarship suggests the Pearl Harbor attack may have actually originated with Yamamoto.
    • Subverted by Homma and Yamashita, other "sane men".
    • Raizo Tanaka, considered by many Americans the best destroyer commander in the IJN , was relieved of duty for playing the Only Sane Man by pointing out Imperial General Headquarters had set impossible objectives during the Guadalcanal campaign.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The concept of Yamato damashii, the spirit of the Japanese race, played a major role in the self-image of Japan's armed forces.
  • Rape, Pillage and Burn: Often used as a reward to soldiers for winning battles. The IJA often gets compared to a barbarian horde for this very reason. This was especially prominent in China.
  • Recycled in Space: Star Blazers.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Remember Pearl Harbor!
  • Russo-Japanese War: One of the Imperial Army's two main wars. A minor victory (if at all) for Japan, but major in the sense it grew more audacious and the Western powers started taking it more seriously.
    • While the losses were about even, and Japan gained very little out of the war, Russia still came out of the war a lot worse for wear, as the people trusted the government less, many prisoners were taken, and over fifty thousand people died due to economic deadweight.
  • Seppuku: A fatalistic culture, the Japanese were extremely devoted to suicide, preferring (what they believed was) an honorable death to captivity. At least in theory (read propaganda). The people of Okinawa had been told that capture by Americans would be A Fate Worse Than Death, and given what soldiers who had returned from China had experienced, it was not that far fetched. However, some survivors report having murdered their whole families against their will before being captured by American soldiers.
  • The Spartan Way
    • A Japanese Military School at the time was so rigorous that you could tell officers because they were the smallest and thinnest; they had been half-starved during adolescence. The IJN was out at sea in all weathers practicing. And so on.
    • Japan decided to build its air forces (both Navy and Army) around small numbers of truly exceptional pilots, rather than large numbers of pilots who were merely very good. It paid off well in the carrier battles of 1942, where Japanese pilots pressed home successful attacks against great odds. It also resulted in the effective destruction of Japanese airpower in 1943, as the prewar aviators went to places like Rabaul and Wewak from which they would never return. Imperial Japanese airpower had to be rebuilt from scratch afterwards.
    • Saburo Sakai, noted IJN fighter ace, opined that "the Navy placed almost superstitious belief in the idea that brutality made better enlisted" and by all accounts the Army was worse. The use of physical punishment against an enlisted man was considered utterly normal.
  • Taking You with Me : Japan used this as its strategy in World War II, hoping the Allies would not have the nerve to go through with it. The Allies not only did "go through", but unfortunately for Japan, the Allies had More Dakka and used it well. Japan simply could not take enough with them to make up for what the Allies "took".
    • This was their plan in the event of an Allied invasion of the home islands. They pulled back as much troops and tanks as they could to Japan, drafted millions of citizens into militias (including elderly suicide bombers and schoolchildren with knives), commandeered all available boats and planes to use as kamikazes, and spread propaganda to convince their citizens to hold mass suicides. Had the invasion gone through, most estimates predict that it would've resulted in more American deaths than World War 2 and any other war they were involved in or would be involved in combined, and about fifteen percent of Japan's population. Fortunately, the Soviet invasion and the atomic bombs made it unnecessary.
  • Tank Goodness: The only major army of the Second World War to completely avert the trope. Japanese tanks were, in 1930, decent vehicles; underarmored and underarmed, but small and quite light (an important consideration when fighting in jungle terrain). Standards advanced rapidly however, and by 1944 when US M4 tanks met the Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha, the US tanks could and did treat the Japanese models with the same sort of contempt a German Königstiger might have for their M4s.
    • Moreso, actually. In that not only was the quality gap smaller but at the very least, said Königstiger crews would have learned to respect and fear the doctrine and especially the number of *lesser* allied tanks, because there was always, ALWAYS more of them. The Japanese, however, faced both a gross qualitative *and* quantitative disadvantage against both the West and the Soviets, with... predictable results.
    • The M4 Sherman gunners preferred using high explosive rounds rounds against the Japanese tanks instead of the armour piercing rounds. The armour piercing rounds would have simply gone straight through the armour of the thinly armoured Japanese tank... and gone out through the other side, making little impression on the tank but two neat round holes on each side of the tank. On the other hand, using high explosive rounds would often end up shattering most Japanese tanks to pieces.
      • The British Matilda tank, obsolete in the West already in 1942, was more than a match against the Japanese tanks, with its 2 lb (40 mm) gun being well able to pierce the Japanese armour. The Australians dubbed Matilda as Queen of the Jungle.
  • Technician Versus Performer: The USN thought of itself more as a technician of war and the IJN more as a performer.
  • This Means War: Pearl Harbor.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Both America and Japan did this to each other to some degree at the start of World War II. Indeed Japan's whole plan was based on the assumption that a nation of quiet, polite shopkeepers would never have the heart to put Honor Before Reason and would give up pretty quickly unlike a true Proud Warrior Race.
    • Khalkin Gol, where Japan learned you never, under any circumstances try to invade Russia, as they mostly achieved a Pyrrhic Victory the first time. The earlier Russo-Japanese War was indeed a fluke as the Russians claim. The Japanese ended up losing some 30,000 soldiers, almost twice as much as the Russians, and retreating.
    • There's a possibly apocryphal account that at Midway, Admiral Nagumo, awestruck by the suicidal courage of the torpedo plane attacks, turned to an aide and said something along the lines of, "My God, the Americans have bushido!"
  • Unobtanium: America and The British Empire placed an embargo on oil and other resources to Japan before the war as they really didn't want it to be used by Japan to beat up China, where they had their own interests including the local Balance of Power. The Japanese could not carry on military operations without such things and withdrawing would lose face. Thus they decided that they should attack Pearl Harbor, Singapore, the Phillipines, Burma, and Malaya, thinking a quick strike would and a quick "magnanimous" offer of peace would end the war. It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time.
  • We Have Reserves: The Chinese attempted to use this strategy against Japan, but it worked out very poorly against Japanese tanks, planes, mortars and machine guns. The Japanese themselves attempted to use this against the advanced armies of the United States and the British Commonwealth, which also ended in disaster for much the same reasons. Also, unlike China who could actually afford to replenish losses, Japan couldn't afford to have large amounts of troops killed. On paper, their empire had a very large population to draw from. In reality, they didn't have the food to feed them, the money to train them, or the ammo to equip them.
  • World War II : One of the Imperial forces' two main wars. Not a sweeping victory for Japan.
  • Worthy Opponent: Raizo Tanaka, the commander of the "Tokyo Express". He may be more admired by Americans than by the Japanese!
    • In Debt of Honor Tom Clancy referred to him as the greatest destroyer commander who ever lived.
    • Jisaburo Ozawa again. Raymond Spruance, probably the best of the American carrier commanders, considered him the only Japanese carrier commander who was any good in the entire war.
    • In a gesture of magnanimity, Admiral Chester Nimitz visited Japanese military hospitals after the war.
    • Both Yamamoto and General Kuribayashi (he of Iwo Jima fame) seem to be regarded at least neutrally, if not positively, in the western world. Both men had had experience of western ways pre-war and knew it would not be a good idea to take on the US, lending Kuribayashi a certain doomed poignancy in his final battle.

Notes

  1. A declaration was issued, but was marred by typical Japanese indirectness -- "it appears that negotiations are no longer necessary", rather than "we are now at war" -- and strategic blundering that resulted in it being presented after the attack
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