Victoria 3 – Ultimate Japan Guide

So, after numerous unsuccessful runs, I just accomplished a Japan run, rising to rank 2 Great Power by 1904. I made an effort to follow history as closely as possible, therefore even though I had the option, I did not increase my territory. Japan is a lot of fun to play, and even though it had a rough start, I believe it has a lot of potential.

It is possibly the best nation at displaying the themes of this game—modernization, industrialization, and unrelenting imperialism.

Starting Situation

Unlike some other countries (Prussia and Sweden come to mind), your starting situation is very important as Japan. You are ultimately looking for two things:

  1. Is Russia Belligerent to you? Restart if they are. It doesn’t matter whether they are protective, genial or cautious, but if they want your stuff, it puts you in a bad military situation right off the bat.
  2. Is your Shogun (the leader of the Shogunate IG) traditionalist in ideology? I’d say restart if they are. Traditionalist Shogun would oppose ending Serfdom, Isolationism, Traditionalist economy, hereditary bureaucrats, or adopting colonialism. It’s not an impossible run, but it’d be more difficult than it has to be.
    • The Shogun can be either Reformist or Jingoist. The latter is more common and will allow you to pass Professional Military and Colonial Expansion very easily, both of which are laws you needed early.
    • A Reformist Shogun will support almost every law you want to pass or at least not oppose it. Use him to get rid of Serfdom and Hereditary Bureaucrats ASAP.

Opening Moves

Playing Japan is all about passing new laws and industrialising — in a way, they are perhaps the best caricature of the Victorian Era.

Economically, you do the same as you do for other nations. Build more Wood, Construction, and Paper. You start very under tax capacity, so it wouldn’t hurt to build Government Administrations. Use your excess authority to levy a Service sumptuary tax, and enable Promote Social Mobility everywhere — it will improve your literacy from 20% to 40% in a matter of two decades.

You should always open your research with Colonialism, followed by Stock Exchange, the banking tech and Academia. The order after Colonialism can be changed but Colonialism needs to be rushed.

Consider switching your construction method early to encourage the use of Tools.

Diplomatically, you start as an Unrecognised Major Power and you will very soon drop to an Unrecognised Minor Power. Nothing you can do really, and it is actually beneficial as we will find out later.

You should improve with Russia and observe what happens during the Opium War. GB will likely take a treaty port if the war happens and therefore get involved in the region. When that happens, improve relations with them as much as you can — they tend to be protective of you.

Politically, go for Professional Army – Colonial Expansion, Serfdom Abolished or Appointed Bureaucrats, Landed Voting, then get rid of Isolationism and Traditionalism in no particular order.

Reason is that Professional Army is very easy to pass and you should do that while you wait for the Colonialism tech. Colonialism is important early, because you need it for Hokkaido and Sakhalin, and you can then settle parts of Indonesia before Europeans do it.

Serfdom Abolished is very important of course, but Appointed Bureaucrats will reduce the Shogunate’s Power — which you need to do desperately. Landed Voting does the same thing.

Leave the Shogunate in power until you pass Landed Voting, then you can get rid of them. Don’t forget to keep suppressing them!

The Meiji Restoration

A unique Journal Entry, the Meiji Restoration, is available to Japan. It requires the Shogunate to be out of power and has less than 20% clout for 10 cumulative years. It gives a lot of good buffs and a nice flag change when we finish it, so we should definitely aim to do it ASAP.

You can reduce the influence of the Shogunate by two ways: the first is by reforming like I mentioned above, the second is by inducing a civil war somehow and win on the side without the Shogun, which is the historical outcome. I’ve only managed to do the civil war once, but you’d need either Russia or GB to back you in the war. If you can do it though, you have 20 years to pass all the laws reducing the Shogunate’s influence and industrialise as much as you can.

The Meiji Restoration gives stuff like 20% industrialist or Intelligensia clout and a buff to the industrialist’s contribution into the economy, along with an Emperor that belongs to the IG you chose. He’s also a hard coded moderate and will not oppose your laws, meaning you have high legitimacy all the time. Did I mention it also gives free railways?

Dealing with Britain and the Chinese Model of Growth

Your relationship with Britain make or break the game. Given that in the current version USA is very unlikely to be the one opening your markets, GB would do it instead.

Your primary objective is simple: joining the British Market. You can do this either by becoming a Protectorate of Britain or joining their Customs Union if you got rid of Isolationism (which you should try to get rid of ASAP). I joined their Customs Union in my game while being an Unrecognised Minor Power, as I believe you can’t do that if you are an Unrecognised Major Power.

Britain might also turn Belligerent; if that happens, and they want stuff from you, likely they will force you to open markets and/or take treaty port. You’d have to take the L, which you should try to avoid as much as possible, unless you think you can win or only lose with open markets (gets rid of Isolationism for free).

Once in the British Market, you should have no shortage of industrial products and an abundance of Tea, Silk, and Dyes that sell very well. Use this to industrialise yourself and don’t forget building industries you seemingly don’t need (like Sulfur or Coal mines). With a larger population than Britain, you can rapidly industrialise yourself and even surpass GB in GDP easily.

The Crash

It will eventually all come crashing down when either GB kicks you out of the Customs Union or you leave. You’d suffer a GDP crash, but if you arranged your building correctly, you can get back up in a decade or so. Import missing resources and export excess ones, use high taxes, etc. Just don’t do what Argentina did IRL and build their entire economy on selling beef.

China Policy and Further Beyond

Once you stabilised your economy, you should be around 4th or 5th in GDP, but as you are still an Unrecognised Major Power, you’ll need to prove your mettle. Make sure you are not behind on military tech. Going to war against Russia is ideal here, but they sometimes join the French customs union and ceases to be a GP, which was what happened to me. Instead, I had to fight Qing and Spain/Portugal to gain recognition as Spain was a GP in my game. If you are up to date with military tech and not undersupplying your army, you should be able to win. Once you win, you’d be at least guaranteed a Great Power.

Invade Qing on truce timer for either land or war reps and use it to fund education and industrialisation. Qing’s war reps are worth almost 200k or something absurd like that, which would keep you from debt.

Consider invading Indonesia for rubber and oil; though, in my case, I found oil in Japan and got an independent Dutch East Indies in my Customs Union.

Also Consider enacting Cultural Exclusion; it is easier to pass than Multiculturalism, but it enables you to attract migrants from China, and there are a lot of them. You can cause further Chinese migration by invading China repeatedly and causing their living standard to drop, while you enact social security yourself.

Consider going Council Republic once you’ve ran out of buildings to build — it will allow better employment and a higher living standard, and it will drop the amount of radicals considerably. I have 11m of them in this screenshot, but 10 years later I had 5m and 7m loyalists.

Japan Video Guide

An instruction manual for playing the Japanese Shogunate. including the economics, construction, reformation, battling China, and developing into a superpower! I hope this improves your playing of Japan and helps you match their history!


  • 00:36 Starting Situation
  • 05:28 Colonizing Japan
  • 07:52 Laws
  • 09:44 Problems in isolation
  • 12:37 Technology
  • 14:34 Army industry
  • 15:44 Tech con’t
  • 16:13 Events/Journal
  • 18:03 Economy/ Building up!
  • 26:27 Universities
  • 27:55 Expansion/Changing Culture Tolerance
Egor Opleuha
About Egor Opleuha 6908 Articles
Egor Opleuha, also known as Juzzzie, is the Editor-in-Chief of Gameplay Tips. He is a writer with more than 12 years of experience in writing and editing online content. His favorite game was and still is the third part of the legendary Heroes of Might and Magic saga. He prefers to spend all his free time playing retro games and new indie games.

1 Comment

  1. Tobacco was grown in Japan from the 17th century, and cotton arrived hundreds of years before that. Aside from that, good guide.

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