The people who settled the Japanese islands built a rich and proud culture. When knights were sallying forth from castles in Medieval Europe, the Japanese were experiencing their own feudal age, but it could hardly be called a Dark Age. Arts, literature, and national pride flourished during this period. A centuries-long policy of proud isolationism only came to an end when Portuguese sailors landed on the islands, showing the Japanese how far they lagged behind the Western powers. Japan immediately abandoned isolationism and seized upon Western technologies and empire building. This culminated in the creation of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Japanese empire during World War II. After a crushing defeat, Japan abandoned militarism and founded a new empire based on economics. Today, despite having only nominal military forces, Japan is one of the most powerful nations in the world, and an industry leader in all forms of technology.
Japan is Militaristic and Religious, two traits that, while decent individually, do not have the extraordinary synergy that marks the first-tier civs. Japan does, however, have the flexibility to pursue any victory condition which the current game conditions make most convenient. Unlike the Mongols, who are primarily warmongers, or the Babylonians, who are primarily builders, a Japanese player can change his objective along the course of the game without abandoning his natural strengths. Your rivals look unconquerable militarily? Use the Religious trait to build up temples and cathedrals, striving for a cultural victory. Suddenly a war breaks out among other nations, significantly weakening your enemies’ military advantage? You can abandon your culture-building, use the Religious trait to quickly change to a more war-focused government, and use the Militaristic trait to start pumping out veteran units and perhaps grab a couple of armies with your plentiful elite soldiers. Unlike many Civs, who are dependant on map conditions or the state of the AI for their success, a Japanese player can always be confident that his nation can succeed, if its managed properly.
Any Religious civilization has the potential to be a successful builder, and Japan is no exception. Though it doesn’t receive any production or commerce bonuses, Japan’s half-priced temples and cathedrals can be some of the first in the game, and as a good Civ player knows, older culture buildings produce more culture. These buildings also create a happier populace, which frees a Japanese player from wasting potentially useful citizens on becoming entertainers or spending excess money on the luxury slider. However, Japan’s prowess as a builder only begins to take serious effect after the mid-to-late Ancient Age. A bit of a slow starter, Japan can usually only acquire the sprawling empire many Civers like to see by careful and prudent use of the military.
Cheaper barracks and harbors, combat-hardened troops, and more abundant armies are the hallmarks of the Militaristic trait, which Japan possesses. Therefore, Japan has a respectable capacity to wage war. Unfortunately, Japan is prevented from being a first-rate warmonger because the Religious trait does little to speed along the warmaking process. In a martial sense, probably the best effect of the Religious trait is the ability to quickly switch to a war-focused government like Communism. A Religious Civ can also stay in a representative government during war longer than most Civs, due to more temples and cathedrals delaying the effects of War Weariness. This boost of happiness can also allow a player to more easily subdue conquered populations. These benefits, while noticeable, are not as much of an aid to warmongering as many other traits. Not every Militaristic civ is a first tier warmonger, and Japan is no exception.
The Japanese Samurai reflects Japan’s status as a balance-of-power player. A knight replacement that has an additional defense point and does not require horses, the Samurai costs the same as the knight. An extra defense point may not seem very important for a fast offensive unit, but because the Samurai is perfectly capable of defending itself, it does not have to wait for an escort of musketmen or pikemen. A combined arms force is usually best, of course, but for quick, decisive wars the Samurai is hard to beat. A force of fast-moving Samurai can quickly penetrate an enemy’s border, ravaging the trade network and taking out cities. The Japanese Golden Age is also very well timed. The early Middle Ages, ripe with marketplaces, libraries, universities, cathedrals, and great wonders, are a perfect time for a Golden Age. The downside is that even though Samurai are better defenders than pikemen and equal with musketmen, they are considerably more expensive. A player can field two pikemen for less than the cost of a single Samurai, making their viability as defenders dubious.
Japan can be very interesting to play because a player is not locked into a specific strategy in order to succeed. This versatility is augmented by a flexible, multi-use unique unit. Japan has a balance of play that makes it attractive to many players, but suffers from not being able to outperform its enemies in any particular area. As respectable at building as it is at warmongering, Japan is a solid 2nd tier Civilization.
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