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Prior to the Imperial period, Japan had been governed by the Tokugawa shogunate, a clan-based feudal-military government which held power since the 17th century. For centuries, true regnal power had not lain with the Emperor of Japan, who held a more ceremonial position as the central figure of the

Though Japan has been an empire from 1868 to the current day, Imperial Japan specifically refers to the country during World War II.


1868 to 1941

Prior to the Imperial period, Japan had been governed by the Tokugawa shogunate, a clan-based feudal-military government which held power since the 17th century. For centuries, true regnal power had not lain with the Emperor of Japan, who held a more ceremonial position as the central figure of the traditional Shinto religion. However, Emperor Meiji led a rebellion of Japanese feudatories, or daimyo, against the paramountcy of the shogunate in the Boshin War of 1868. This was followed by a period known as the Meiji Restoration, during which aggressive measures were undertaken to reformulate Japanese government, politics, and society to modernize and compete with the more advanced Western imperial powers. A product of this was the adoption of a constitutional monarchy on Prussian lines, governed by the Prime Minister and Imperial Diet with the Emperor as head of state. During the closing decades of the 19th Century, Japan caught up with European technological progress to an appreciable extent, such that Japan defeated the Russian Empire when the two powers went to war for the sphere of influence over Korea in 1904-1905.

The Empire of Japan sided with the Allies during the Great War, honoring its military alliance with the United Kingdom. In the 1920s, Japanese society experienced a liberal tendency, as political power shifted from the genro - political elites within the Emperor's favor - to the organs of parliamentary democracy. Meanwhile, large industrial powerhouses called zaibatsu rose to power over the Japanese economy, while adventurism in the Japanese military was encouraged as any reckless incident could manufacture a casus belli for foreign intervention in China, Korea, or elsewhere. Right-wing anxieties were also inflamed by the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Revolution and Civil War, which established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and seemingly energized the international socialist movement. Although socialism was never very popular or powerful as a theme in Japanese politics, anti-communist fears motivated an increase in police and government authoritarianism to crack down on any revolutionary tendencies. Furthermore, Japanese ultranationalists who advocated a militant spiritual opposition to the West grew increasingly loud, advancing the notion of unifying the East Asian nations through military power under Japanese leadership.

These social forces reached their crescendo during the early years of the reign of Emperor Showa, who was better known while still alive as Hirohito. Japan entered into the Anti-Comintern Pact with the Third Reich out of mutual opposition to the Soviet Union and the Communist International. The Anti-Comintern Pact, alongside the Pact of Steel signed between Nazi Germany and the Italian Fascist dictatorship, formed the basis for the Tripartite Pact, a military alliance between the three nations that became the nucleus for the Axis Powers during the Second World War. The Imperial Diet was usurped by a totalitarian clique called the Taisei Yokusankai, which claimed to act in the interests of facilitating the divine will of the Emperor. Whatever the Emperor's actual complicity in these actions, they amounted to the creation of a fanatical military dictatorship over the country which found its legitimacy in the Imperial cult.

World War II

 Main article: World War II

Japan's military expansion into China unified several warring factions of that country, including the Chinese communists, the Kuomintang, and various regional warlords, to put aside their differences to repel Japanese incursions. The Empire of Japan established the protectorate of Manchukuo in Manchuria, nominally ruled by the former Emperor of China Puyi, to extend its control. Although this warfare had little to do with and preceded the outward military ambitions of the European fascist powers, Imperial Japan was brought into World War II by affiliation with them. In addition, the Japanese leadership wanted not only to create a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" ruled by themselves, but also to expel the Western imperial powers from the Asia-Pacific region, including the British and French colonial empires. Although the United States of America supported the United Kingdom against the Axis with a lend-lease initiative, it was the Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that officially brought the United States into the war on the side of the Allies. The leaders of the Japanese Empire oversaw the development of conventional and unconventional military forces, superhuman terrorist and espionage agents, and elaborate occult enterprises, in pursuit of victory in the Second World War. Much Allied war propaganda was produced to target Hirohito as the principal representative of Imperial Japan, ridiculing him and often drawing comparisons to the Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler.


After suffering many defeats, and seeing Nazi Germany surrender to the Allies, the Japanese Empire led by its military refused to capitulate. Their stubbornness ultimately forced the United States to make the first use of nuclear weapons, and caused the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, respectively. This finally led to Japan's surrender and subsequent occupation by the Allies, and the adoption of a new constitution that ended the Empire of Japan. Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was hanged by an Allied tribunal for war crimes committed by the Japanese military, although Emperor Hirohito was permitted to remain seated on the Crysanthemum Throne as figurehead of the Japanese nation. This was done at the suggestion of U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, who understood the central importance that the Emperor had to the Japanese national collective self-image and his pivotal significance to securing the provision of a new order in the country. Many other officers of the Japanese military were either hanged for complicity in war crimes or committed seppuku out of shame of defeat.


  • Imperial Japan first appeared, in comics covered by this database, in Smash Comics #2, in the Espionage / Black Ace series, when Japan and Russia went to war with one another, in China.
  • Imperial Japan first appeared, in a DC comic book, in Adventure Comics #42, in that issue's Skip Schuyler story, with an air-raid against a civilian population.

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