Victoria 3 – Beginners Guide to Japan

A beginner’s guide for Victoria III, focused on Japan and based on version 1.5.9. Assumes you’ve played the tutorials.

Japan Guide for Newbies


Victoria III has now reached a level of content that might’ve been expected at launch, and has changed significantly since then. So many older guides may no longer be helpful. This guide is written for v. 1.5.9.

This guide is meant to help newer players learn how to play Victoria III – but only after they’ve played the tutorials in-game to learn the bare basics. This guide will focus on Japan but a lot of what’s here can be used for other countries as well. We won’t be going too far into the game. Just far enough to give a basic template for opening moves.

Before Unpausing

Why Japan?

Historically, Victoria III covers a major period of Japanese development – the rapid industrialization of the Meiji Restoration, the Russo-Japanese War, and Japan firmly becoming a major player in the East.

Japan is a great nation to learn how to play the game with, as you can learn how to build an industry without major outside interference for some time due to having the Isolationism Trade Policy law and your starting states have the raw resources to build an industry with.

Victoria III is an open-ended game without an objective end-goal in mind. But the game does nudge Japan towards trying to replicate its real world accomplishments with its Journal Entries.

Because of that, the goal for anyone learning how to play with Japan should be:

  • Build a functioning industrial base.
  • Expand the industry to start handling population needs.
  • Modernize.
  • Activate the Honorable Restoration.

Starting Position

At game start, Japan is an agrarian society with the Shogunate (Landowner) Interest Group as being firmly in charge. While you have some factories to handle goods production, you have no Tooling Workshops and a mere two Construction Sectors – meaning if you do nothing, you’ll never industrialize.

Your starting laws firmly keep the Shogunate in charge – having Peasant Levies increases their Political Strength by 25%, a Local Police Force by another 10% due to starting with a level of Institution, and Serfdom by a staggering 50%. A combined 85% bonus to Shogunate power!

But there is one law here that isn’t typical – Frontier Colonization. This is a colonization law that was added in a patch that allows your nation to colonize – but only if you’re adjacent to your target by land (or in Japan’s case, by strait). You might recognize this if you played a tutorial with the United States.

Japan starts the game colonizing the island of Hokkaido, slowly taking bites out of Ainu Mosir. You can choose to colonize Sakhalin after completing Hokkaido, but Russia will eventually come knocking for it.

Technologically, Japan starts with the basics. Other than Colonization, Japan does not have any technologies past the third row in Production, Military or Society research – and in some cases still has technologies outstanding in the second row (Mandatory Service for Military, Cotton Gin for Production). And because you start with no Universities, you are capped at 50 Innovation per week, despite having a hypothetical maximum that is twice that.

Your starting military is actually quite large, though it’s purely infantry and it’s Irregular aka the lowest rank. While you have the technology to recruit Cannon Artillery and Hussars, you lack the manufacturing base to support any artillery units and it would take some time to recruit the cavalry – time you need elsewhere.

You start the game as an Unrecognized Major Power, meaning that Europe can and will eventually target you with hostile Diplomatic Plays – either to force your to open up your Market (force you to switch Trade Policy to Free Trade) or to make you a Puppet through other means.

While you can become recognized by winning a war with a Major Power with the proper war goal, that’s beyond the scope of this guide. Your goal is to get comfortable with Victoria III right now.

Things to Do Before Unpausing the Game: Politics and Research

With all that in mind, to really hit the ground running we’ve got several things to do. First, check the Shogunate Interest Group. We need to see what character Ideology their leader has. In the current version, he will either be a Jingoist, a Traditionalist, or a Pacifist.

A Jingoist means you’ve got the best possible start, Pacifist means the worst start, and Traditionalist is neutral. You can opt to restart the game until you get Jingoist (or not Pacifist), but we won’t be making any assumptions for this guide. Keep the Ideology in mind for your next move – initiating reforms.

That 85% bonus to Shogunate power needs to be your top priority. Anything you can reasonably do to reduce that bonus, to reduce Shogunate cloud – do it.

Your first Law reform will depend on your Leader’s Ideology. If your leader isn’t a Pacifist, start enacting the Professional Army law under Army Model – if they’re a Jingoist you’ll have no real chance of neutral or negative (Debate/Stall) outcomes at checkpoints. If you have a Pacifist, swap your Policing law to Dedicated Police Force. The Samurai will support the change, but it will take longer. This is why Pacifist is the worst outcome – you’re only taking 10% off of the Shogun’s bonus instead of 25%, and it’ll take a while for you to get a good chance at Professional Army.

While we’re on the subject of Politics, while your current Laws are regressive they give you a ton of Authority and we’re going to start using it immediately. While we can’t Suppress the Shogunate (they’re in power), we can Bolster the Intelligentsia and the Industrialists. Bolstering these groups and changing laws, combined with what you’ll eventually build, will help you start taking chunks out of the Shogunate.

Next, your research. Patches added the ability to queue technologies. Your goal should be to beeline towards Mechanical Tools, then Atmosphere Engine, then Railways.

Why these technologies?

  • Cotton Gin doesn’t provide an immediate advantage – you have no Cotton Plantations at the start of the game. But it’s the prerequisite for what you really want.
  • Lathe unlocks advanced production methods for your Textile Mills, Furniture Manufacturies, and Glassworks – these will help create the starting demand for Lead and more demand for Tools.
  • Mechanical Tools will create your starting demand for Steel and Sulfur, and help boost Meat production with the third tier of production method at Livestock Ranches.
  • Atmospheric Engine unlocks a new production method for the Mines you’ll be building, increasing production and creating more Coal demand. It also unlocks the Motor Industries building, which you’ll need for…
  • By the time you start work on Railways, you may start running into problems with going over allotted Infrastructure for your states. This will help alleviate that and create the starting demand for your Engines.

Not Unpausing Yet…

Before You Unpause: The Budget & Decrees

Next, your budget. You need to industrialize as fast as possible. So we’re going to move the Taxation Level to Very High. Not only will that give you a lot more money to work with going ahead, it creates a penalty to Interest Group attraction to any groups currently in government – including the Shogunate!

We’ll also introduce Consumption Taxes that will target people with money. Services and Transportation are a good start, as is Tobacco and Porcelain. That should leave you with 275 Authority remaining – which we’ll use to activate the Promote Social Mobility Decree on your two most populous states: Kansai and Chubu. Need to boost the literacy rate after all!

If you’ve done this correctly, you should have income of roughly 46.5K and 75 remaining Authority.

Before You Unpause: The Opening Construction

You only have two Construction Sectors at the start of the game, which will never get you what you need. Immediately queue up three Construction Sectors in every state except Japanese Hokkaido and the Ryuku Islands. You will have the budget to support them with the taxes you’re introducing.

After your Construction Sectors, you need to queue up Logging Camps. You start with three locations at the start of the game (Tohoku, Chugoku, and Chubu), but only two of them currently produce Wood – the Good you need to fuel your new Construction Sectors. Queue up Logging Camps for Tohoku and Chugoku, both up to Level 10.

Then, it’s time to create your first Tooling Workshops. Two levels in Kansai will be good enough to start – you don’t have any demand yet.

After that, I highly suggest building a level of Iron Mines in Tohoku and Kanto, a level of Lead Mine in Chubu, and a level of both Sulfur Mine and Coal Mine in Kyushu. You won’t need any of these yet, but by the time they come up in the queue your research should either have already unlocked what you’ll need them for or close to it.

Finally, a Steel Mill. I like putting it in Kanto, and this is more to have one ready for when you unlock the Mechanical Tools technology.

To review, you’re going to build as many Construction Sectors as your increased tax rates allow, make buildings that feed your Construction Sectors that will reduce costs, and create the buildings you need to support the next tier of industrialization. You’re not trying to make anything dirt cheap – yet – you’re making sure you have enough supply for the demand you’re about to create.

Before You Unpause: Diplomacy

While Japan is Isolationist, there are still things you can do. You can still declare an Interest in a Strategic Region (your other one is locked out due to Isolationism), and you can still increase relations with anyone that’s declared an Interest in Japan.

The Interest doesn’t really matter at this stage – in earlier patches it made sense to rush Colonization and get a Colonization Institution that let you colonize Africa, and that’s where you’d plant the Interest.

What does matter is the Improve Relations Diplomatic Action – you’ll have four choices at the start of the game, and there’s two correct answers: Great Britain and Russia. You can add Great Qing and Joseon if you want, but I like to keep my points open in case any other European powers get interested.

You want to increase relations with the British and Russians to avoid an early war with them. While this can be a good thing if they’re seeking to open your markets, the AI is unpredictable and might make other demands (especially Russia on Sakhalin), and you don’t have an army that can go toe to toe with them yet.

Before You Unpause: Production Methods

We don’t have any way of producing or importing Tools yet, so changing Production Methods for all our buildings isn’t a great idea right now. But we do have capacity we can maximize.

We start the game with a Shipyard in Kyushu, so we can build Clippers. We even start with it fully staffed, but it’s losing money since the supply is greater than demand.

The quickest way to fix this is to upgrade the production method for all of your Fishing Warves to Fishing Trawlers – you already have the production capacity to support it. This is the kind of thing you’ll need to do in order to manage the economy as you modernize – create production capacity to support your modernizing economy, then implement the new method when you can afford it.

There are two more Production Methods that are worth swapping onto – Free Churches for Urban Centers and Secular Administration for Government Administration. This creates more jobs for your Bolstered Groups.

Before You Unpause: The Journal

While you could unpause the game right now, take a moment to look at the Journal. Patches added a new Journal Entry: The Terakoya System.

While this is active, you have a -10% malus to research speed and a 25% bonus to Education Access and completing it swaps out the -10% malus for a 15% bonus and a -5% to your Bureaucracy for 9 years.

It will require a Level 3 Institution for Education, which your current Laws (Serfdom) won’t allow. Since Serfdom is also the largest source of the bonus to Shogunate Power, it’s just another reason to get rid of Serfdom at the earliest opportunity.

Speaking of the Shogunate, it’s time to talk about the Honorable Restoration. It states it will only activate once the Shogunate is out of power. There are two ways to do it:

To do the Restoration peacefully:

  • The Shogunate Interest Group cannot be Powerful – meaning their Clout can’t be above 20%. At the start of the game it’s close to 50%.
  • The Shogunate can’t be part of the government, so have some other groups in charge that can create Legitimacy.
  • There’s no insurrectionary Interest Groups, and Japan is at peace.
  • Japan owns all of Kanto – one of your starting states.
  • All of the above have to be true for 10 total years – progress does not reset if something goes wrong.

To do the Restoration quickly:

  • Defeat the Shogunate in a Revolution.

Getting the Honorable Restoration by beating the Shogunate means the Shogunate has to radicalize enough to launch a Revolution and then you have to beat them. While you can hypothetically beat the Shogunate as the group launching the Revolution, you fail the National Agenda if you don’t have the Monarchy as a Governance Principle for your Laws.

Final Pre-Unpausing Summary

Victoria III may not hardcode a ‘win’ state, but it certainly has certain expectations of Japan. Let’s look again at what we want to do as Japan again – but this time, with what we’re going to do to further each step. Some of these we’ve already started taking steps towards.

  • Build a functioning industrial base. Maximize the Construction Sectors and pay for them with Goods, create a Tooling Workshop, create demand for those Tools, and lay the foundations of a functioning internal market.
  • Expand the industry to start handling population needs. Stabilize the budget, eventually increase supply for goods our Pops need.
  • Modernize. Activate more productive Production Methods, build Railroads, and eventually build Government Administration. Get rid of Serfdom at the earliest opportunity to get the Education Institution to Level 3.
  • Activate the Honorable Restoration. Reform laws to reduce the Shogunate’s bonus to Clout. Build up support for the Intelligentsia and Industrialists. Be ready to take advantage of a Revolution if the Shogunate is ready to go to war.

You are now ready to unpause the game.

The First Years

Chaos Theory Emerges

There is no accounting for every scenario the AI will pursue. But there are several general tips and things to be aware of that can help you modernize.

War over Hokkaido And Sakhalin

It’s possible the Ainu Mosir or Sakhalin will declare war over your colonization of Hokkaido and Sakhalin. They cannot field an army to resist you and you’re early enough in the game that Europe will not care to intervene.

Government VS Private Construction

A feature that was patched in is a distinction between Government Construction and Private Construction. Both rely off your Construction Sector pool, with a percentage of it being dedicated to Private Construction.

Government Construction is what you directly ordered built, and should focus on expanding things you’ll know you need in the days ahead. Construction Sectors, things to feed Construction Sectors, Resources, Factories, etc.

Private Construction is the game’s way of trying to replicate private actors’ investment into your market. It will occasionally expand buildings on its own.

Agitators and Political Movements

Within the first year of the game, you may see Agitators appear in your country. These are Characters who will push to create Political Movements independent of your political parties, and the earliest way to get some reforms passed when your more liberal/industrial oriented parties are still weak.

While you can invite Agitators in some countries, Japan does not have that option due to Isolationism. So whatever the game hands you is what you get access to.

Typically, your first Agitators will either push for Landed Voting, Tenant Farming, Homesteading, or Appointed Bureaucrats.

Landed Voting can be a drag early on as it’s still a form that can favor the Shogunate Interest Group and disrupt efforts to reduce their Clout below 20%. It’s nice to have, though.

Appointed Bureaucrats increases your Taxation Capacity, gives 25% Political Strength bonus to your Bureaucrats, and the Intelligentsia will attracted fewer Aristocrats employed in Urban buildings. It’s helpful countering penalties to Taxation Capacity with your starting laws, but doesn’t immediately help you chisel away at the Shogunate.

Tenant Farming and Homesteading are Land Reform Laws that replace Serfdom, and if an Agitator or Political Movement arises demanding one of these that’s great! At a minimum, you’re cutting the Shogunate’s largest bonus to Political Strength in half and you’re forcing your Subsistence buildings off of the Serfdom Production method. Homesteading replaces Aristocrats with Farmers as well. If you aren’t able to quickly get Professional Army or Dedicated Police passed and a movement for either of these comes up, consider letting it build strength for a bit before switching onto it if enacting your first Reform still doesn’t go well.

Slowly Create Demand

While you may unlock new Production Methods or build new factories, be careful not to create too much demand too quickly. Nevermind introducing penalties to production, the game doesn’t seem to like it much.

That’s why it’s helpful to slowly roll out your starting demand for new Goods, like swapping Rice Farms onto Harvesting tools or Livestock Ranches onto Butchering Tools once you have a Tooling Workshop online before putting the Logging Camps onto Saw Mills, or introducing Gas Streetlights and Public Trams into your Urban Centers when you have Coal and Engines (with Railways researched).

Expanding the Industrial Base

Once you have the ability to produce Steel, you have a free-ish hand to build according to your preferences. Start looking at your market prices and building Goods to compensate, decrease the cost of goods your Pops need, and reduce the price of intermediate goods that your more advanced factories will use – such as Iron and Coal once you have stable Steel production.

When Do I Build Government Administration?

Not anytime soon. While Japan starts with hilarious penalties to Tax Collection due to a low Taxation Capacity (which these buildings can fix), some of that penalty is due to the Traditionalism Economic System Law (-25%) and you still have enough money in the early game to power through the penalties.

When Do I Build Universities?

Universities in your first years are a trap, even though they’ll boost your piddling research speed. They cost money and time that your economy needs to build basic industry. At a bare minimum, have your production chain ready to produce Steel first.

When Do I Modernize My Army?

I would suggest waiting until you’ve started building Railroads. Your economy needs time to be able to support the factories you’ll need to support the Goods necessary (Arms Industries, Artillery Foundries). I recommend building these in Kansai and then do not start upgrading your units yet. Build enough production capacity to eventually support your army, but don’t create the demand just yet.

When Do I Build My Navy? I Don’t Even Start With Ships!

Japan the future naval power, has a fleet only on paper. You don’t have the industrial capacity to support building a navy right now (Military Shipyards) or an advanced military capable of say, beating up Joseon or Great Qing. This can wait until you’re close to figuring out whether you’re going to achieve the Honorable Restoration peacefully or by force.

I Was Building Up Gold Reserves Since I Made So Much Money; Now I’m Losing So Much Money!

Check your production for Construction Sectors and Tooling Workshops; do you have enough Wood to supply them? Do you need to increase production capacity? Is it time to switch Production Methods for Tools to increase your production and create that starting Iron demand?

Get used to checking your Market Prices with the Market screen (F4 shortcut). It’ll tell you what your most pressing needs are for production and eventually import.

As a last resort, you can destroy some Construction Sectors to balance the budget. I don’t recommend doing this until you have a semi-function industrial base.

1840: Checking In

By 1840 you should have some Tooling Workshops online, you’re probably researching Mechanical Tools, you might’ve built the Mines necessary to power the new Production Methods unlocked by Lathe, you’re building your first Steel Mill even though you have no way to induce demand yet, you’ve colonized Hokkaido and might be finishing Sakhalin, and depending on RNG you’ve got at least one new Law enacted (and if you’re REALLY lucky, two – in a test game I had Professional Army and Tenant Farming by February 1840). You’ll also probably unlock some other technologies through Technology Spread this year as well.

You probably have enough of a handle to start on your own from this point forward, but let’s go over one last thing.

Honorable Restoration: War or Peace?

By 1840 you should start to figure out whether or not you feel comfortable trying to achieve the Honorable Restoration as quick as possible.

In older patches (and maybe newer ones made after this guide is written), you could destroy Barracks in every state that wasn’t your capitol and cheese the Revolution. It is still possible to do this, but it’s quite tedious in this patch.

A less gamey version is to not instigate the Revolution until after you’ve built up your Arms Industry. Then, once the Revolution starts being staged (but before the war begins) start upgrading your army to Line Infantry – which you should have by this point if not through Technology Spread then you dedicated time to it. The AI will not have upgraded their troops, giving you a serious advantage. As long as you manage your fronts effectively, they will not be able to win despite having ostensibly a 2:1 advantage on you.

You can achieve the Restoration peacefully as well, by continuing to pass laws that remove the Shogunate’s 85% bonus to Clout and building out your industry to create more opportunities for Industrialist and Intelligentsia aligned pops – increasing their Clout.

Jan Bonkoski
About Jan Bonkoski 962 Articles
Jan Bakowski aka Lazy Dice, was always interested in gaming and writing. His love of gaming began with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64) back in 1998. He’s been making game guides since 2012. Sharing his gaming experience with other players has become not only his hobby but also his job. In his free time, he plays on Steam Deck.

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