A Brief History of Tabletop Wargaming in Japan: 1972–2012


Nowadays, some board wargames which were designed by the Japanese and were published in Japan are republished as English version in the U.S., but I think that most of non-Japanese wargamers don't know the Japanese wargaming environment.
On this web page, I attempt to introduce a brief history of the "hobby" of wargaming in Japan—especially about tabletop wargaming.
Probably, the population of Japanese tabletop wargamers is next to the U.S. at the present time, (though I think that we will be overtaken by the Chinese and the Indian in the future,) but their "journey" is different from the U.S. in various points.
If Japanese wargames are considered to have characteristics different from the U.S. wargames, the factor may come from such a different journey.
I wish this short piece a help to non-Japanese wargamers interested in Japanese wargames.

From Miniatures to Papers

People who watched TV drama Clouds Above the Hill may know that Imperial Japanese Navy had held a military simulation under the influence of the U.S. Navy, but wargaming was known only by military officers in pre-WWII Japan.
And, some "old soldiers" of wargaming may know that when Strategy & Tactics was first issued in 1967, the publisher worked at a U.S. Air Force base in Japan; therefore it was originally printed in Japan, but the then Japanese did not know that such a magazine was published.
Japanese first contact with the hobby of wargaming began in 1972.
Even non-Japanese, many modelers probably know "Tamiya" and model magazine Hobby-Japan.
In April 1972, Hobby-Japan began to introduce miniature wargaming in serial "Microcosmos of Model Soldiers." In this serial, Hobby-Japan explained that miniature wargaming was "English" hobby.
This article created a great sensation, and so Hobby-Japan held an open demonstration of the Japanese first miniature wargaming in Tokyo on 9 July 1972. It was the origin of the hobby of wargaming in Japan.

An article on "the first open wargaming in Japan" in the August 1972 issue of Hobby-Japan

In 1973, many miniature wargaming meetings came to be held in various parts of Japan.
In August 1974, Hobby-Japan finally introduced board wargame—Strategy & Tactics published by SPI.
And then in June 1975, Hobby Japan Co., Ltd. began to import Avalon Hill's board wargames and sold them together with Japanese rulebooks.

Avalon Hill's board wargame ads in the April and June 1975 issues of Hobby-Japan

In addition, Hobby-Japan introduced Avalon Hill's board wargames in an article "From Local War to All-Out War."

"From Local War to All-Out War" in the June 1975 issue of Hobby-Japan

In December 1975, Hobby-Japan introduced Avalon Hill's board wargames again in an article "From Tactics to Strategy."

"How to Play Avalon Hill Wargames: From Tactics to Strategy" in the December 1975 issue of Hobby-Japan

In other words, the then Japanese wargamers understood that miniature wargames were tactical games of local war and board wargames were strategical games of all-out war.
And then in Japan, though wargaming was originally introduced as "miniature game," miniature wargames were declined as soon as board wargames were sold.
Miniature wargames generally need larger space than board wargames, and the land of Japan is small. That is the reason—some people may think so, but though the land of Hong Kong is smaller than Japan, wargamers in Hong Kong play both miniature wargames and board wargames, so the problem of space is insufficient evidence.
Another thinkable factor is the then Japanese miniature market.
In those days, miniatures which had been finished were hardly sold in Japan, and the most of the then Japanese modelers were young people; therefore it was difficult for them to prepare many miniatures for wargaming.
Nowadays, though Warhammer is often played in Japan, miniature wargames are still hardly played. This would be a characteristic of the Japanese wargaming environment.

Serious Losers and "War Games"

In addition, the Japanese wargaming environment has other characteristics.
The Japanese people are considered to be serious and industrious. It is right, and it in itself is not a bad thing, but such people frequently consider games to be contrary to seriousness and industriousness. They do not know the words "serious game."
In addition, the Japanese became "once bitten, twice shy" after the losing of WWII. In other words, they came to avoid taking an interest in anything about war and military affairs—as if talk of the devil war, and it will appear; therefore every work which includes a military element was considered to be vulgar. For example, many pictures and songs for whipping up fighting spirit were created during the war, but they were erased from not only public spaces but also histories of pictures and songs after the war.
And then, teachers and mass media reporters who had instigated "holy war" during the war, especially did not like children taking an interest in anything about military affairs—as if they concealed their own former deed.
In other words, in Japan, a considerable number of adults considered that the hobby of wargaming was not serious, vulgar and harmful to children from the time when it was introduced for the first time. The fact was that the mass media sent reporters when Hobby-Japan held the first open wargaming mentioned above, and discussed whether wargames were right or wrong after the reporting.
Even now, some Japanese wargamers tend to hide their own hobby. This would also be a characteristic of the Japanese wargaming environment.

The Import Era

In the 1970s, Japanese wargamers played "imported" games. In general, Hobby Japan and other companies imported Avalon Hill's wargames. SPI's wargames were slightly imported by a few retail shops because they were not in the box and the risk of damage during transportation was high in those days.

Avalon Hill's ads in Hobby-Japan (1976–1978)

In April 1977, Hobby-Japan began a serial "Avalon Hill Variation" (in September 1977, changed the title into "Let's Enjoy Avalon Hill Games"). This serial was written by the members of "Cadet Club" a wargaming club in Tokyo. It included the introduction of Tactics II, Wooden Ships & Iron Men, PanzerBlitz, Panzer Leader and so on. The optional rules that they made were announced in it too. And it introduced the play-by-mail and solitaire wargaming.

"Avalon Hill Variation: Tactics II Remodeling Project" in the April 1977 issue of Hobby-Japan

In August 1978, "Let's Enjoy Avalon Hill Games" was changed the name into "The World of Wargames." "The World of Wargames" introduced a history of wargaming and Avalon Hill, announced the latest information about Avalon Hill's games and Cadet Club, answered the questions of the rules.

"The World of Wargames: This is the World of Wargames!" in the August 1978 issue of Hobby-Japan

In August 1980, Hobby Japan Co., Ltd. decided to import SPI's box wargames, and introduced SPI by an article "SPI Appears!" in Hobby-Japan.
"SPI Finally Appears", "The Roots is Japan!", "SPI is a Good Match for AH", "Progressive SPI", "To the Limit of Ideal!"—the article introduced SPI by such phrases and games: Bulge, Leningrad, Operation Typhoon, Paratroop, Battles for the Ardennes, The China War and Fulda Gap.

"SPI Appears!—It's New Storm from New York Now!" in the August 1980 issue of Hobby-Japan

And then in September 1980, Hobby Japan began to import SPI's box wargames.

SPI's ads in Hobby-Japan (September 1980–September 1981)

Domestic Games and Magazines

In the 1970s, many Japanese wargamers tried to design wargames themselves. And then in 1980, an occurrence gave a boost to publish domestic wargames—Hobby Japan raised prices of imported wargames.
From 1949 to 1971, the exchange rate of Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar had been a fixed exchange rate and one dollar had been 360 yen, but it was changed into a floating exchange rate by the Nixon Shock, and Japanese yen had gradually risen. In 1978, the exchange rate of Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar reached 180 yen.
Hobby Japan was originally established in order to introduce the newest hobby in Europe and the U.S. to the Japanese and increased import business together with strengthening yen, but in 1979, the exchange rate was changed into a strong dollar, and the exchange rate of Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar fell to 250 yen by 1980.

Avalon Hill's ad in Hobby-Japan in 1979

Avalon Hill's ad in Hobby-Japan in 1980
The prices of D-Day, Waterloo, Stalingrad, Afrika Korps, Midway, The Battle of the Bulge and Blitzkrieg were raised from 4800 JPY to 5800 JPY.

It is necessary to publish domestic games of which the price is lower than imported games in order to spread more wargames in Japan—and then in 1981, Bandai, Tsukuda Hobby and Epoch Co., three major toy companies in Japan, published domestic wargames one after another.
Bandai had already been famous for toys of Thunderbirds, Space Battleship Yamato, Ultra Series, etc. Tsukuda Hobby was a subsidiary company of Tsukuda which had been famous for selling Reversi, and another subsidiary company Tsukuda Original had sold Rubik's Cube. And Epoch Co. had been famous as the maker of Baseball Pinball Game.
Domestic games were finally sold, but these three companies had their own advantages and disadvantages. And the advantages and disadvantages were reflected in each first work.
Bandai had the largest capital, and so its wargames consisted of beautiful and luxurious components. Plastic stands for counters and mini rake for moving counters were included and the combat was resolved by cards, but the designers had not known the existing wargames at all, and so the game itself was badly made. In fact, Bandai's first wargame Combined Fleet was a strategic wargame of the Pacific War, but its naval vessel units had Zones of Control.

Bandai's Combined Fleet ad

Tsukuda Hobby's first wargame was Jabro which was a game of tactical ground combat in the world of Mobile Suit Gundam. This game was based on a self-made game designed by university student wargamers, and its basic system was based on Squad Leader. The first wargame was an anime-based tactical wargame, and the central designer OKADA Atsutoshi had a deep knowledge of miniature wargaming; therefore Tsukuda Hobby mainly published tactical wargames of anime and WWII after that. Both anime and WWII are popular theme; therefore Tsukuda Hobby published many wargames in rapid succession, but it caused mass production of inferior articles, and quite a few games were low-playability.

Tsukuda Hobby's Jabro ad

Epoch Co. entrusted the design to outside team Rec Co. Rec Co. was established by two wargame enthusiasts, SUZUKI Gin'ichiro and KURODA Yukihiro, and its name came from reconnaissance company. Rec Co. had many playtesters, and all the members were wargame fans; therefore thoroughgoing playtesting was done. Epoch Co. simultaneously published four games, Minsk '41, Russo-Japanese War, Desert Fox and Battle of the Bulge, and named them "World War Game Series." Every game was high-playability and playbalanced, but Rec Co. was careless about graphic design, and Epoch Co. did not spend enough money on graphic design either; therefore their packages and components did not look as good as Bandai and Tsukuda Hobby (except Battle of the Bulge).

Epoch's "World War Game Series" ad
Epoch Co. did not put advertisements in full color at first.

In January 1982, Hobby Japan began publication of bimonthly wargaming magazine Tactics in response to increasing wargame market.

Cover of the first issue of Tactics

And then in July 1982, Hobby Japan also published domestic wargames, Tank Battles and IJN.

Tank Battles and IJN ad in Tactics #4 (July 1982)

Domestic wargames were sold well. Bandai's Combined Fleet and Epoch's Japanese Task Force were especially sold 30000 copies, but some hardcore wargamers who had played SPI's historical wargames since 1970s underestimated them. Such people considered that Bandai's games with plastic gadgets, Tsukuda Hobby's anime games and Epoch's poor-looking games were kid's toys.

Expanding Fronts

In July 1982, Hobby Japan, Epoch Co. and Tsukuda Hobby began joint hosting of a wargaming convention "TAC-CON." "TAC-CON" was held in various parts of Japan.

Notice of the first "TAC-CON" in Tactics #4 (July 1982)

Report of "TAC-CON" (Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama) in Tactics #6 (November 1982)

In August 1982, Hobby Japan began to import GDW's games.
In September 1982, new bimonthly wargaming magazine Simulator was published. Simulator was originally published as in-club newspaper of "First Division" wargaming club in Tokyo, but it was virtually edited by Rec Co.

Covers of Simulator

In November 1982, Hobby Japan published Japanese edition of Jim Dunnigan's The Complete Wargames Handbook.

The Complete Wargames Handbook Japanese edition ad in Tactics #7 (January 1983)

In 1983, Epoch Co. began to sell the new series of wargames "Epoch Wargame Electronics (EWE)." EWE games were designed by not Rec Co. but employees of Epoch Co. EWE games were mini-games using magnetic playing pieces and iron-plastic board including electric die rolled with IC at random.

EWE ad

In June 1983, Tsukuda Hobby began publication of quarterly official support magazine Operation.

Covers of Operation

In September 1983, Hobby Japan began to import Victory Games' games.
In October 1983, Ad Technos newly participated in the publication of wargames. Originally Ad Technos had been an advertising agency and undertaken to produce Bandai's advertisements. Some employees of Ad Technos had known wargames; therefore Ad Technos came to undertake to design some Bandai's wargames. And then Ad Technos began to publish original wargames "Simulation Game Books (SGB)" series independently. SGB series were wargames of the book form.

SGB #1 Mist of Ardennes

At the beginning of the 1980s, Japanese tabletop wargame market rapidly expanded. Nevertheless, its boom was too later and too shorter than the boom in the U.S.
In 1982, SPI went bankrupt. In 1983, Nintendo launched NES. And then in 1984, two incidents threw cold water on Japanese tabletop wargame market.

To be continued...

Last-modified: Wed 11-May-2016 04:03:20 PM +0900 JST