Paradox knows it’s in the pipeline, they just prefer not telling you that it is so you buy the game anyway. So I’m writing this guide after putting 85 hours into the country, since nobody else has written a guide yet.
Definitive Guide to Japan
So, you want to play Japan, but you don’t know what you’re doing. Well, you’re in the right place for learning how to industrialize Japan.
I’ll not bandy words like I did with my EU4 guide, which was super in-depth. You start with virtually nothing. Your economy is barely kept afloat, and you grow tobacco for some reason. I don’t know if Japan actually did grow tobacco, but just like having the ability to grow cotton before emerging from isolation, it’s just more nonsense in Victoria 3 that we’ll ignore.
So, we start with the Shogunate (landowners) and Samurai in power. The Shogunate has 50% clout, and the Samurai have about 9-10%. This is pretty daunting stuff, but we’ll oust them all soon enough. Our main goal, in order to get to the modicum of unique flavor that Japan gets, is to trigger the ‘Honorable Restoration’ journal entry. It requires the shogunate faction be out of power and be below 20% clout for 10 whole years.
Yep, 10 years in game spanning 100 years. It doesn’t reset or anything if you mess up, but the timer pauses instead. Once we trigger the Meiji Restoration, as it is traditionally known, the Shogun abdicates his responsibilities and you hit the first brush of flavor. Namely, your country finally changes to Japan, adopting its signature red color, a new flag, and moving the capital to Edo (Tokyo). You also get three new events relating to the Restoration. These involve the evolution of the Samurai into the Armed Forces interest group (removing their Bakufu trait), the end of Sakoku (closed country), and urbanizing Japan. In most runs, these will still be available by the time the Restoration fires, but if you’ve been an eager beaver, you may have ended Sakoku already and the corresponding journal entry (along with its reward) will vanish into the aether. You also unlock the decision upon forming Japan to adopt State Shinto as the official religion. This modernizes the Buddhist Monks, removing another annoying trait they had.
The final reward for completing the Restoration is that you get claims on Korea. That’s it. Enjoy the last 30-40 years of the game though!
On its surface, Victoria 3 might appear like a rich economic and society simulator. But once you crack the code, you realize that things could not be further from the truth. And that code is understanding the game’s economy loop. Every building in the game produces something from something else, and you need something that requires what that first building produces. In most circumstances, that need comes from pops, who consume things like goods and services so you, the country, can make money.
A more literal example is this: your logging camp makes wood that fuels your tooling workshop. The tools go back to increasing productivity in the logging camp, allowing for more wood to be produced. You then expand an iron mine that allows you to upgrade your tooling workshop to develop iron tools for more tools, creating a demand for iron. You just expand this never-ending loop until you get bored and quit the game, basically.
This is especially true as Japan, where this formula is my recommended opening move.
Japan begins with a grand total of 9 construction, with 5 being the base and 4 coming from two other construction centers. This is obviously untenable, so I build an equal number of construction and logging camps, ending with a single tooling workshop and iron mine. This allows me to sustain a solid amount of construction in the early game while still making money through consumption taxes and budgetary discretion. Specifically, these expenditures are offset by early consumption taxes on luxury clothing, porcelain, tea, tobacco, liquor, and services. You might be tempted to use grain or clothes instead, but I feel that these penalizes your lower strata moreso than taxing vices and services instead.
You may also be wondering why I build in Shikoku. And the rationale here is simple: Shikoku has the easiest time recovering from a chronic problem that every state (except Ryukyu) in Japan suffers from: Insufficient Taxation Capacity. This is a walloping modifier to each state’s effective tax income, but it’s actually less sinister than you might otherwise be led to believe. This is because at game start, you actually are just taxing peasants for the most part. There’s not really much of anything else in the way of industry.
This leads me to my next point for Japan, early-game Government Administrations, Barracks, and Naval Bases are all noob traps. As far as an early Japan is concerned, you might as well pretend they don’t exist, with some exceptions. This is because all of these buildings cost money to run, and we want to snowball our economy, not bog it down with the infinite expenses of the bureaucracy. No seriously, look at how much a single GA building costs to run: roughly 800 a month. Barracks and Naval Bases will employ pops, but they’ll also suck away your income into their wages and military goods.
The exception to this rule of thumb is when you’re first building in Shikoku. Since you’re so close to the tax inefficiency threshold, I personally like to throw down 2 more GA buildings here, just to hit positive taxation for the future industry we’ll be building here.
And that’s really the initial build. Over the first few years of the game, this will complete, and you’ll want to add more construction that equalizes your market’s demands, like tools and such. If you did things right, you should be making money as the build completes. You’ll also want to switch all buildings to use tools (Wheat, Rice, Pastures, Logging Camps, etc.), and scale up demand accordingly. As your treasury nears its maximum, which should happen around 8-10 years in, go ahead and switch all 8 construction centers to iron-frame construction. This will sap your economy in the short-term, but will double your construction output once you satisfy the increased demand on the iron mines and tooling workshops. You’ll also want to get the railways technology ready soon, so you can build steel mills and motor industries to build railways, providing transportation to your pops and solving infrastructure problems forever.
Additionally, you’ll also want to get 5 universities built as soon as you finish the Academia technology. This costs money to run, but it’s well worth the investment early. You could technically build 15 of these to hit your innovation cap immediately, but that would seriously tank your economy. Besides, there’s production methods that let you shore up the difference.
Another side note here is to max out your ports in Shikoku, as that early infrastructure before railways come online will help avoid market access penalties.
On another note, try to specialize your states in Japan. This is because you’ll want to spread out the modernization of Japan, as this satisfies a journal entry for the Meiji Restoration (to have 70% of states with a level 5 Urban Center (500 Urbanization). After much trial-and-error, part of which included realizing it doesn’t matter very much, I opted to go with the following breakdown. This also helps consolidate your Economy of Scale/throughput bonuses, which cap out at 50% for having 51 levels after two additional techs (beginning at 20 for 21 levels). But again, as long as you stack the industry somewhere, it doesn’t matter where it goes, except for the Shipyards in Shikoku.
- Hokkaido: Power Plants, Electric Industry, Wheat (This is your only source of wheat fields, which are the only non-trade source of wine in Japan).
- Tohoku: Arms and Munitions; Livestock.
- Kanto: Universities and Art Academies; Silk.
- Kansai: Groceries and Textiles; Rice.
- Chubu: Glass and Fertilizer; Tea.
- Ryukyu: War Machines and whatever else you want, I grew Tobacco here to give them something to do.
- Chugoku: Paper and Furniture; Dyes.
- Kyushu: Steel and Engines; Dyes.
- Shikoku: Tools and Shipyards; Dyes (Shikoku is the only state with a unique trait that gives +10 Naval Base levels and +10% Shipyard throughput).
This was just how I broke it down for Japan, and it ultimately doesn’t matter as long as you concentrate all the industry in the same states, expanding railways as needed. Once you allow migration, your pops will be able to move freely between states, but that should generally not be an issue, given your 31m population.
Colonizing as Isolationist Japan
I know what you’re thinking: Why doesn’t Japan start with Hokkaido or Sakhalin fully controlled? And the answer might surprise you: I have absolutely no idea. It’s profoundly stupid, and this is before I even get into the colonizing AI. As a pitiful consolation prize, you have claims on Sakhalin that you can press if Russia (or anyone else) colonizes it before you. But you don’t have any such claim on Hokkaido…
Paradoxically, rushing colonization is actually a terrific strategy for Japan to do, despite the ahistorical nonsense that this is. This is because all of the remaining lands in the world that have not been colonized, are divided between those that do not have malaria, those that have malaria, and those that have severe malaria. The provinces without malaria require only the first technology of Colonization to begin passing the law for, and those with malaria require the next tech in the chain: Quinine. But for our purposes as Japan, all we want is Colonization.
This is because fully controlling Hokkaido is such an important goal for Japan. In the coming decades of the game, Hokkaido will have a gold rush that spawns 8 gold fields. Until these fields deplete, their base minting income (that you receive directly) of 500 each won’t seem terribly impressive. But once they deplete, you’re then able to build the more lucrative upgrade: gold mines that scale with technological improvements. So now Hokkaido is supporting your treasury directly with minting income and growing wine for all of Japan. Pretty sweet gig, right? It’s made even sweeter by the fact that Hokkaido has 36 coal, 36 lead, 33 lead, and 32 sulfur mines to go with it. It supports 54 wheat farms as well, so don’t sleep on this.
Sakhalin is also a great state to snag early, but it’s not the end of the world if Russia gets this state. Sakhalin boasts 45 iron mines, 32 coal mines, but can only raise livestock. It can support some fish, lumber, and whaling stations though.
So, I personally make Colonization the first thing I go for every game. This is because Russia doesn’t always colonize Sakhalin and Hokkaido, and even if they do start on Sakhalin, this isn’t the end of the world, because you usually have time to get Hokkaido colonized before Russia can start.
From there, whatever’s left of the world is your comical oyster. You can go for the quinine stuff (which requires universities to be built, which you’ll want anyway, since it’ll boost your effective innovation stat), or just disable the colonization institution once you’re done. Your main options depend on what your game’s AI has decided it wants, but Oceania is usually very attainable for Japan, as is South America. One run, I even got into Kenya (East coast of Africa, decentralized power), and kept expanding into the interior. It was great. There’s also Papua New Guinea, but the AI tends to colonize parts of it. They’re annoyingly relentless, despite the 99% penalty to colonization speed.
Speaking of speed, this is why Japan functions so well as an effective colonizer: their starting population of 31 million that ranks #6 in the world. This gives them the max colony growth speed at 2% per day. If you start a second colony, this narrows it down to 1.66% per day— still a good deal. The South American colonizers are so comically slow at this that you can easily snatch up vast swaths of the region uncontested. Or, even if contested, at the small cost of 20k lives (99% of which will be attrition deaths).
This opener does require a bit of luck though, since Russia usually likes to colonize near you. Someone suggested that improving relations with Russia increases the likelihood of them going away, but I haven’t found that to be the case in my experience.
The other component of said luck also involves your parties and radicals. Colonization is not popular, and you’ll likely accrue some 1 million radicals in the aftermath of passing the law. This is basically inevitable if you’re stridently ignoring opposition and pushing for a liberal utopia, but feel free to revert to no colonialism if you’re content with what you’ve gotten. And once you finish with all your laws, your interest groups will mellow out and stop being so mad all the time now that they realize life is pretty good.
As a final reason to colonize, your mid/late-game trade will be reliant almost entirely on convoys. As of this initial version of the game, you as Japan are utterly limited by the number of ports you can build. It doesn’t matter that you can build 1000 railways in a state, you’re stuck with a hard limit of 4-7 ports based on tech. This will give you anywhere from 12-24k convoys (or more with the last tech), but you’ll still find yourself needing many, many more.
This is where Oceania comes in. Every coastal province will have the same port threshold: 4 at game start. And given how few states there are in Japan, and how many there are in Oceania that are uncolonized, the picture becomes very clear: Japan should take the islands, which they wanted to do anyway.
Overthrowing the Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration
This will likely be the source of most players’ frustrations when they first attempt Japan if they’re new. I know it was for me, but once I understood the economic loop, it became a breeze to oust the shogunate. But they start with a commanding 50% clout, seen below.
As you can see, they get a massive amount of bonuses, but this clout is a paper tiger, since there aren’t really any other classes in Japan, besides the peasantry, Buddhist monks, and samurai. As you industrialize the country, the other groups will eat away at this power base, and you’ll see this fist happen when the samurai fade into obscurity. So our goal is to remove the shogunate from power by empowering other interest groups and diminishing the shogunate’s power. Industrializing the country accomplishes both of these things. But what of laws?
As you see in the screenshot above, five different laws boost the shogunate’s influence. Of these laws, we’ll want to remove all of these except the Monarchy boost. This will involve us passing Professional Army, National Guard, Dedicated Police Force, and Abolish Serfdom. These are obviously going to upset the shogunate in some way or another, but that’s okay. This is because even though the shogunate (and others) may oppose a proposed law change, like Professional Army or something, their opposition actually doesn’t matter if it won’t push them over the edge to a revolution.
And it’s this part, the revolution part, that I want to emphasize. It is absolutely possible for you to overthrow the shogunate without having to fight a costly revolution. This is because even though they’re unhappy with a law being passed (such as going to Dedicated Police from Local Police), this unhappiness is fleeting. It’ll eventually burn off as you pass other laws. But if you try to be too ambitious in your political legislation game, they’ll quit your government, tanking your legitimacy in the process, and decide that you are too dangerous to be left alive.
This is obviously not ideal. So if you ever see a revolution brewing, look at why they’re trying to do this, and either cancel your pending legislation, or start passing something at least one IG about to revolt would be appeased by, preferably a law you wanted to pass anyway.
And…that’s about it. If you’re going the colonialism route, do be aware that once you pass it, your peasantry will be quite upset by this break in isolation, and you’ll probably take on a million radicals in very short order. But radicals are just a number, and Hokkaido’s gold more than makes up for their fleeting unhappiness.
Why Read When Few Word Do Trick?
Here’s a list I initially intended to be super-compact when I first started writing it, but then I realized that it was not as compact as I wanted it to be, and gave up. Anyway, here’s what I do on day 1 when I play Japan. Bear in mind that some interest group leader traits and Russia’s colonialism RNG will change some of the law-specific steps by delaying them. If executed properly, however, this shouldn’t result in any revolutions.
Set consumption taxes on Services, Liquor, Tobacco, Tea, Chinaware, and Luxury Clothing. Optionally, decrease military spending by one level.
Delete the two whaling stations in Kanto. The oil they produce is pointless this early, and the jobs have a 30% mortality rate. Deleting them before you unpause deletes the timed journal entry you have on Day 1 that asks you to increase it to level 3 and hire an admiral. The rewards are -2% mortality risk for a few years, or 25% throughput on an industry you have virtually no demand for, so delete it and build them when you have demand for oil (and preferably workplace safety institution at -100%).
Go to Buildings Side Menu. Change production for Urban Center to Market Stalls and Free Churches. This will increase services offered and decrease the amount of clergymen. Feel free to leave them in if you’re looking for a more historical Japan with religion as a more focal point though, this way just fires some clergymen and reduces their clout (which is quite high in Japan for the start). Do the same for Government Administration, changing to Secular Administration.
Go to the Rural tab. Change Wheat Farms to Vineyards, and Rice Farms to Fig Orchards. Change your Fishing Wharves to Fishing Trawlers. Go to the Development tab. Change Ports to Cargo Ports.
Queue up 6x construction centers in Shikoku, followed by 6x logging camps, 1x tooling workshop, and 1x iron mine, changing the tooling workshop to use pig-iron tools instead. This is your basic bread and butter that you’ll fulfill pretty much all game.
Set first technology project to Colonization, with Hokkaido and Sakhalin being the first two priorities. Oceania being a distant third. Feel free to be as ambitious as you want though. South America will have some gold you can exploit if you’re not satisfied. If you earnestly do not care about colonization, then take Academia (this will be our second tech anyway).
With our leftover Authority after the consumption taxes, begin bolstering the Intelligentsia and suppressing the Buddhist Monks. Alternatively, you can do one or neither of these things and benefit from the surplus 425 authority’s -15% law enactment time. It’s up to you.
Regardless, every game’s opening law strategy will have the same four options: State Religion, Professional Army, National Guard, or Dedicated Police Force. Depending on your RNG, these may not be compatible with Colonization Law, so check who supports that too before deciding on anything. Essentially, if you pick the wrong combination of laws that piss off the shogunate and the peasantry (Colonization radicalizes them from day 1 if passed), they’ll start a revolution. Thus, I like to begin with Professional Army, as it makes the peasantry happier, enhances the strength of your army, and usually the only supporting interest group, the Samurai/Armed Forces, are in power on Day 1.
After Day 1
Once your tooling workshops come online, go back to the Buildings Side Menu again, and change Wheat and Rice Farms to use tools. Do the same for Livestock Ranches (Butchering Tools) and Logging Camps (Saw Mills).
Build things to meet demand, balancing your economy as it grows. Depending on your luck with your first few law checks, you may or may not have something passed by now. Regardless, once you get Colonization researched, that law will be your priority. So if you just rolled the checkpoint, just drop the law and move onto starting Colonization. This is doubly true if Russia has started colonizing Sakhalin, as you’re running out of time. Personally, I restart if they get Hokkaido, but that’s up to you.
After you get Colonization (or Academia), your priority is to build 5 universities now, preferably in the same state. Take the 50% throughput bonus when the event fires. Be sure to set them to secular if that’s what you’re aiming for. As your second or third technology, you’ll also want to get Romanticism for access to the lifesaving Agrarianism Economy Law. This is because our Traditionalist Economy is horrifically awful, so you don’t want to stick around a moment longer in it than you have to.
By 1846 (Or Earlier)
Once you’ve got your universities and basic production economy setup, you’ll want to balance between researching important production technologies (like railways, fertilizers, and so on) and society technologies that give you access to new laws like human rights (what a concept). Be sure to never sit on the chances of a 0% law— just move onto something else instead.
By 1846, your treasury should be full, or nearing it, and you’ll want to make the dramatic switch into Iron-Frame Buildings in your Construction Centers. If you built exactly 6 as mentioned earlier, this will set you into a healthy deficit. But you’ll narrow this deficit by scaling up your iron mines and tooling workshops in Shikoku, adding ports to offset the infrastructure demands as needed.
As this is going on, or even sooner, you’re probably out of laws to pass by now. So go ahead and reform the government to kick the samurai out, and add in the intelligentsia. These guys support a number of more forward-thinking reforms, like changing the distribution of power in the country to Landed Voting. This one should be your immediate priority, as it has a good chance of passing thanks to themed events that give near-guaranteed increases in success chance. Once this law passes, parties will begin forming based on the Society technologies that have been researched. As more parties form and splinter away from each other, the less power that the shogunate will enjoy, and in a few decades, you’ll be able to effortlessly kick them out of government after one such an election. They’ll still probably be powerful, however, but now they’re vulnerable to suppression effects, which can trigger an event chain dedicated to suppression measures.
After voting, however, our main law priorities are to pass everything possible that we want to, but three major laws stand out: Agrarianism, Per-Capita Taxation, and Free Trade.
As mentioned earlier, Agrarianism is lifesaving because now the waning aristocrats can contribute monies to our non-existent investment fund. And Per-Capita Taxation is just leagues ahead of the aggressively awful law that is Land-Based Taxation. And for Free Trade, we want access to markets around the world so we can import sugar and export fine Asian goods, like Chinaware, Tea, Luxury Furniture, and Luxury Clothing. Depending on how the markets in your game evolve, this can be a tremendous boost to your economy. In one game, I was shipping almost 4000 units (pounds?) of tea to the British Market alone. The only constraint in this version of the game is how many ports and convoys you can build. So go wild.
If you’ve had a bit of luck on your side and a bit of shrewd economic judgment, your economy should break even again after implementing some laws and changes through Agrarianism and Per-Capita Taxation. This will take a hit once you enact Free Trade, but you can shore things up with some profitable routes, such as for Tea. Once you get these critical laws passed, work on the other laws you haven’t managed to pass yet, as there will be plenty to keep you busy for a few decades longer.
Of these remaining laws, Proportional Taxation and Laissez-Faire (or even Interventionism as an upgrade over Agrarianism) will be your last boosts in law-related income. This is because you’ve been building up a base of healthy capitalists in your country, and they’re all eager to contribute to your investment fund, allowing you to build relentlessly. And when you pass Laissez-Faire, capitalists give the highest contribution to your investment fund.
And as your income expands, you can eventually take on the upgrade to Steel-Frame Buildings, or even just expand and modernize your armies and navies. But don’t forget about your inefficient taxation penalties, either.
Once you trigger the Meiji Restoration and fulfill all of its objectives, you’ll be rewarded with some dying gasps of flavor, and claims on Korea.
A Brief Aside on Why Industrializing Works
When I was first taught how the economy worked, I was confused. Surely if building A required 100 tools, and I built enough to produce 100 tools, that both would be profitable. This is an annoyingly common misconception that defies conventional wisdom. This is because the game actually wants you to create a slightly higher demand level ranging in the 5-10% range. So it’s not enough that you achieve true equilibrium between supply and demand, but that some demand goes unfulfilled. It’s arcane and I don’t know why it works, but it works.
Another reason that industrializing is so effective at ousting the incumbent landowners (Shogunate) faction is for a relatively obtuse reason. While yes, building anything has the effect of employing more pops that go on to join interest groups that aren’t named Peasants, what’s going on behind the scenes is the real reason for the dramatic shift in power.
Let’s look at a quick example of this:
In this new Japan game I just started, I’ve queued up an iron mine to show you what it looks like by default. Specifically, look at the starting ownership of the building — the Merchant Guilds. Now, later on in the game, you’ll have some flexibility in how you tailor this particular setting, but in the early game, we don’t actually care about any of that. Rather, we only care about getting out of this default level as quickly as possible so we can get to the capitalists.
And looking at the image above, we see that the ownership actually changes automatically as we upgrade our industry. The game does not tell you of these changes as you upgrade production methods, for some reason. But it happens all the same. You’ll also notably not see many options for the aristocrats to remain in power, which is another reason that they diminish so quickly — there’s quite literally no room for them in the industrialized future.
So just building and expanding your industry with cutting edge production methods will dramatically grow the up-and-coming capitalist pops for their future role in society: paying monies into your investment fund (and taxes, I guess).