Flames of War I swore I would only do one list and stick with it. I chose late-war Canucks at first and then it just exploded, I ventured into mid-war with my Gurkha rifle list and then tried out early war with adding some Matilda's to my mid-war figures. At first I wanted to try out the EW Poles, but I had a hard time finding all the boxes and blisters I needed. So last last year at Historicon, Battlefront settled the matter for me by having the new Rising Sun book and boxes of Japanese ready for purchase.
Unlike the later periods of the war where I switch around from Commonwealth and German lists, I only play the Japanese in early war. To many, the inclusion of the Japanese was a surprise by Battlefront and especially in early war. However the Japanese were fighting since 1937 in China and in 1939 had a border skirmish with the Soviet Union, so I felt picking them for a new early war list was a smart move and opens up a lot of possibilities in the future.
Where to Find the Japanese
Right now the only book where you can find the Japanese in is Rising Sun, however you can find 4 different Japanese lists in this book that covers; light and medium tank companies, infantry, and cavalry. The Japanese also have the ability for both the infantry and cavalry companies to be turned into fortified lists.
The first thing to note about all the lists in Rising Sun that they all have a Fearless motivation rating; which is certainly an accurate and well deserved rating. As far as training, you can pick from both Trained and Veteran options in you tank and infantry lists.
Type-89 Chi-Ro Medium tanks
The Medium Tank Company is based around the Type-89 Chi-Ro tank and is rated as Fearless Trained while the Fearless Veteran Light Tank Company uses the Type-95 Ha-Go tank. Both lists are limited to what you can get in support, 2 infantry platoons, 1 artillery or anti-tank platoon, and air support that can only intercept enemy air missions.
Type-95 Ha-Go Light tanks
In my opinion, the infantry list is the premier Japanese list to play, you can field either a Trained or Veteran company and you get a lot of support options. You can select either a medium or light tank company in support (yes company, you can get a lot of them), a bunch of different big gun choices (artillery and anti-tank), along with the usual HMG, transport, and engineering supporting platoons.
2 Command Type-97 Chi-Ha tanks with a TK94 Tankette
The final list is the Cavalry Company which has a mix of mounted and dismounted platoons; and while it lacks the tank support of the infantry list, it has a lot of support options and you can take a bunch of rifle platoons.
Japanese Special Rules
When it comes to special rules I cannot think of any nationality that has more or such a wide range of special rules than the Japanese.
The first thing to discuss is how Japanese infantry and tank lists can choose to attack at night and in the dark they have their infantry and man-packed gun teams move at the double at night where the tanks move at full speed. This is a great benefit for an aggressive players and it's one rule I have used a few times with my Japanese.
Another great perk is how you really cannot break a platoon or company. If a Japanese unit fails its morale check they go into what can best be described as "berserk mode" in which they stay on the table and focus on either attacking or defending and objective. So to win you pretty much have to kill them all off.
Speaking of killing them all off, in assaults a Japanese Rifle unit can bounce back after falling back from defensive fire and their human bullet team can still attack nearby tanks. Add to this the fact that Japanese tanks can shoot MGs while bogged or bailed and you have a force that is built to stick around.
Other rules let you fire a 2-gun bombardment without re-rolls with some guns and that Japanese tanks can re-roll misses to targets within 16" if they moved. Also by spending a few extra points on your list you can have your infantry take an extra hit before pinning or you can buy a regimental standard that makes one of your platoons pass all of their morale checks.
All of these rules should appeal to players who favor taking some risks and aggression in the games they play.
Fielding a Japanese List
I decided to make the Japanese my EW force before their initial release, so I was lucky to pick up the infantry and tank boxes when they first came out. I also found the very useful Nikuhaku (human bullet) teams and HMG platoon at the time of the first roll out of EW Japanese from Battlefront. I had to wait a bit to add the artillery, anti-tank guns and some of the tanks that are on the lists since they did not come out right away. However with the list I planned to play I had enough to debut and play my Japanese within a month or so after their initial release. With some of the forces coming out as late as this past summer, I was able to pick up some of the heavier artillery platoons to give my basic list some options in case I wanted to make some changes.
I have heard from more than a few folks that they had a hard time finding all of the products needed to make the Japanese list they desire. Between my local gaming stores, online stores, or direct from Battlefront I had no problems in getting all the things I required for my lists.
For most lists at the current 1550 EW point format you will need a lot of tanks, even if you plan to run the Rifle Company list. I use 8 medium Ch-Ro's with 2 Chi-Ha's and a Type-94 tankette with my basic rifle company list. What is great about the Japanese is that you do not go broke buying artillery, with 2 Type-97 70mm guns providing the support I need to pin an enemy. One big draw back is that none of the Japanese guns can fire smoke, but if you attack at night you do not have to rely on smoke all that much. Another good aspect of the Japanese artillery is that they have a good AT and firepower rating in the direct fire mode to fight off tanks.
I found that painting the figures were pretty easy since the basic infantryman was lightly equipped, while the tanks were a but harder, but after some practice it is easy to replicate the camouflage scheme they were painted in. I found the painting guide in the Rising Sun book a great resource and only made a few changes like painting the officers uniform jacket in a greener color since I found many examples of the officers wearing such a shade,
I also wanted to be able to field the captured Soviet 45mm obr 1937 AT gun with my Hohei Rapid Fire Gun Platoon. For this I picked up the Soviet blister pack and swapped out the crew that came with the Japanese 37mm gun.
Finally I decided to give them a tall-grass base to simulate the terrain from northern Manchuria to the jungles of Burma.
The Japanese List I Play
Above is the basic list I have been playing for a year now. I always swap out one rifle team per squad for the Nikuhaku teams if I am playing a tank heavy list. I also go for the Fearless Trained tanks in order to get more tanks on the table. I have played with both the light and medium tanks but found the that the cost for the Fearless Veteran light tanks leaves me with room for 6 tanks, where just 30 points more gives me almost twice as many. In the past I usually went with the mixed Rapid Fire Gun Platoon, however they only give you an AT rating of 7 vice 6 on one gun for 20-points which turned out to be not worth it.
Gun options; back (L to R) 45mm, 37mm AT guns and HMG, front (L to R) 70mm and 75mm Artillery
I also have always taken the banners for 25 points on each of my infantry platoons. The ability to take one extra hit is worth the cost.
I like this list and while it has not always been successful, I found it very fun to play and I plan to play it as often as I can find places to play an early war game.
Right now the Japanese are limited to 4 lists in one book for the EW period. Using them in a tournament gives you a lot of odd match ups (games against Finnish Fortified and Afrika Korps lists comes to mind) that are pretty challenging. For those of us who like the more historically correct match ups, fights against the British, Dutch, French, Australian, and Kiwi EW lists are somewhat accurate based on the fighting that took place in late 1941 and early 1942.
Expansion in the early war time frame could include all of the forces mentioned above it would be interesting to see the addition of the Chinese, who defended their nation against Japan for years before the start of the Pacific War.
Mid-war would be another excellent place to see a Japanese list. While the popular pick would be the South Pacific versus US forces, I feel that the Philippine, Burma and Indochina fronts would be an excellent place to expand both the Japanese and the war in the Pacific. Most of the models you will need to field these forces already made and it would interesting to play in one of the most forgotten theaters of the war.