A chain of islands off the North-eastern coast of Asia with the capital being Tokyo. It should be noted that in most AH (i.e., most amateur first AH maps), Japan, no matter the time period, will most likely have similar capabilities to post-Meiji Japan and will, for some reason, be able to conquer SE Asia. This is known as the First Rule of Poorly thought-out Asian AH, although for some reason more experienced AHers tend to give SE Asia to India, which is like saying Germany rightfully belongs to France because of Charlemagne. See also India for the Second Rule.
Having lost the Second World War, Japan has nonetheless managed to persuade a generation of American youth that its culture is the best thing since
sliced bread boiled rice, and by 2100 the USA will probably be persuaded that Japan won and was on the Allied side anyway. (Some tourists are even convinced that the whole World War II was a 'minor' affair when asked about it)
Japan is famous for for its vast array of cartoons called anime, much of which has an adult theme unlike those in the West, as well as hordes of tourists that have either colonized Hawaii or can be seen in the most remote corners of the world. Resident China expert Hendryk is fond of Japanese inspired tentacle porn.
Japanese popular culture has managed to do what the Imperial Forces could not, and that is spread across the world in a type of media based imperialism, seducing people of all ages with utter coolness and a sometimes huge (but often overblown) amount of weirdness. Ironically, it is pretty popular in many of the places the Japanese formerly ruled, such as Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even China and South East Asia. A cold war between Eastern and Western Cultural Imperialism has fortunately not been declared yet.
AH.com is not known to have any Japanese members, although gaijin is a Dutch member who lives in Japan, and East Asian Studies specialist Sargon once used to live, work and study there as a result of his degree. jmberry is also quite familiar with the islands and their culture.
Japan is currently in the middle of a bit of a demographic crisis, although the FH forum people don't care because there aren't any brown people involved who can declare an Inevitablid Caliphate
As with many cultures, a lot of what we “know” about Japan actually comes from the same Western media that apparently believes all Spaniards are matadors, Mexico is inhabited only with drug runners, maids, and mariachi bands, Romanians drive Victorian stagecoaches to vampire castles, Arabs fly around on flying carpets, Egyptians still build pyramids, and China hasn't left the Ming Dynasty. So take anything you hear about them with a grain of salt.
- The “Premodern Japan as a great power” cliché - Unlikely, but depends on the POD and continental situation.
-Conversely, Japan as a colony of a Western Power, which is even more unlikely - in the first period of colonization (15th to 18th century), Asia was too remote and populous to see anything more than trading posts (which is what the Japanese got anyway), and in the second period of colonization (mid to late 19th century), the Japanese had nothing the Europeans couldn't get cheaper from the Chinese - the only reason the US took an interest was the possibility that Nagasaki and Edo could be used as coaling stations for New England whalers
-China conquering Japan - as mentioned above, any resource you can get in Japan you can get in China cheaper, so there was never any incentive. In any event, the Chinese never showed any interest in expanding too far outside of China proper. Only once did China try to invade Japan, and that was because the Mongols apparently felt the need to stamp “Property of the Great Khan” on everything.
-Japan not having firearms before being opened in 1854; they were first introduced in 1547.
-Japanese weaponry being superior to European or Chinese equivalents; Japanese steel and henceforth Katanas, were inferior to European and Chinese swords in General (and were actually more for show - bows and pikes were the main weapons, as elsewhere).
-Shinto is Japan's only religion: false, Buddhism is just as influential, and, in fact, the two faiths fought numerous conflicts every bit as complicated and bloody as the Religious Wars in Europe in the 17th Century. And then you have Shinto-Buddhist Syncretism in the Pre-Meiji and Post-Meiji periods.
-Ninjas. The black jumpsuits come from kabuki plays, where black clothes meant you were a stage hand (and thus, invisible to the characters - thus someone in a black suit who suddenly attacked the lead was equivalent to an assassin literally materializing out of thin air). The martial arts were, like all eastern martial arts, designed to be physical and mental exercises, not combat training. The supernatural powers are, well, hyperbole, tall tales from bewildered witnesses, and Hollywood magic all rolled into one. By all actual accounts, Ninja were no different from any other assassins.
-Samurai as overly honorable, to the point of insufferability. Like the Code of Chivalry, Bushido was actually a guideline, an ideal the perfect samurai was supposed to achieve. In reality, of course, the samurai followed it as closely as knights followed Chivalry.