Axis and Allies: Playing Japan
This Axis and Allies wisdom is based on hundreds of games, played as either the Axis or the Allies, over more than two decades. The notes here refer to the Classic game, 2nd Edition.
As with Germany, your primary objective should be to pressure Russia and hasten its demise. Without the fall of Russia, the Axis will be hard-pressed to win.
Your first turn looks forward to your second turn, when you should buy and place an Industrial Complex, usually in Kwangtung. With this in mind, use your 2 transports and 2 battleships to secure the Soviet Far East as an offensive outpost in northern Asia. If Russia captured Manchuria, take it back. You will want the buffer territory to protect your Industry Complex. Beware of attacking China at this time; the USA infantry and fighter make a tough defense early on. Instead, you should keep your troops for early defense of your industry.
If the UK has placed an Industry Complex in India, you could be in for a stalemate situation. In this case, buy a third transport (which you should do first turn anyway). With three transports and the Industry Complex, you can deploy 9 troops per turn into Asia: 3 tanks from your factory and 6 infantry via transports. With this volume of troops, you can hold the UK at bay and press toward Russia at the same time. Take China and Sinkiang to prevent the USA from building an Industry Complex in Asia. Also, don't forget to replace your fighter losses along the way. Keeping 3 to 5 operational is wise for both defense and offense.
You must also make a decision about the USA navy in the Pacific. Do not spend your income for additional naval assets early on. On your first turn, send your submarine from the Solomons, your bomber from Japan, and a fighter from the Carolinas and attack the USA forces around Hawaii. You should be able to defeat 2 or all 3 of them. Then retreat your remaining navy to Japan and protect your transports. If the USA wants to spend time and resources island-hopping, let them. They can only gain 8 IPC's per turn.You can easily gain that amount and more by conquering Asian territory. At the same time, don't miss an opportunity to harass Allied shipping.
On subsequent turns, push as much material into Asia as possible, moving toward Russia and countering any UK action in India or coming from Africa. If you can drive the UK from Asia, don't hesitate to break into Africa with a few troops and grab land and income there.
Watch for a chance to surprise attack into Alaska. You can reach it in one turn from Japan. While this tactic will cost you one turn, it could easily cost the USA 3 or more turns dealing with the threat. That equals a serious gain in time.
Only when Russia's capture is assured should you even consider island action in the Pacific. Watch for an opportunity for air attacks against USA ships, especially transports. Make their job difficult when it does not make your job difficult. If the USA plays for an early invasion of Japan, use massed subs and fighters against their ships. Your costs will be lower, and the sub casualties won't even get to shoot at you.
These ideas are not the only approach to playing Japan, but they have worked well for me for years. Comments welcome and encouraged.