I have used the Japanese in a couple of Medieval competitions and thought I’d share my list and thinking about how to use them.
First of all the 1250pt list composition;
1 x General (cohesion 10)
4 x lords
1 x 6 Bushi with heavy armour, bow, spear, veteran
2 x 5 Bushi as above but in skirmish formation
2 x 6 Bushi heavy armour, bow, spear, veteran
4 x 6 Retainers with light armour, bow
1 x 7 Monks with spear
Why this composition ?
Commanders - the cohesion 10 general is well worth the points. Keep him out of trouble, behind the main battle line and in range of your retainers.
The Japanese lords grant a +1 in combat resolution which is very handy. Keep one with the open order cavalry and the others spread out behind the battle line.
As a general rule I don’t commit a commander to a unit until the turn before it will be in combat (this is to avoid losing them to shooting).
Cavalry - the formed unit is no match for mounted knights of the period but is useful for flanking, clearing skirmishers and shooting.
The skirmish units are great for concentration of fire, board control and exploring gaps in the opponents battle line.
Infantry - normally I would deploy the infantry in a single battle line with the Bushi toward the flank such as; Bushi/Ret/Ret/Ret/Bushi/Ret.
The light armour may seem an expensive option but in my experience it is worth the investment.
The monks are useful for clearing woods etc. Remember open order troops retain their rank bonus in difficult terrain and the monks get a bonus in combat resolution. They are vulnerable to missile fire though so I would usually keep them slightly behind the main battle line.
Strengths - the army has a great ranged missile capability with a possible 64 shots each round with half of those being from superior shooters. This is good for gaining a pool of momentum tokens early in the game. My advice is to concentrate your fire wherever possible rather than splitting your fire across several units. The aim is to get your opponent to take cohesion tests as often as possible.
With only two close order units the army has good mobility and offers good board control.
With a cohesion 10 general the army has excellent morale. The Bushi are naturally leadership 8 so the skirmishing cavalry can operate reliably. The monks can be boosted to cohesion 8 if you give them a lord. They have a nice re-roll ability as well. If a unit does break then there is a good chance it will rally if your general is nearby.
In combat the army is reasonably solid if you maintain a battle line and are not flanked. By the time combat occurs you should have a good pool of momentum tokens to commit.
Weaknesses- the army has no access to cheap skirmishing foot troops. An astute opponent will force you to waste your bow fire clearing off small units of skirmishers one at a time whilst they close with their combat troops intact.
Full plate, barding, cataphracts etc - anything with a 2+ save is a useful counter to missile heavy armies like the Japanese.
Conclusion- the Japanese is a rewarding army to play with. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on bow fire to win games and neglect other aspects of the game.
Be patient, weaken the opposition battle line before committing to combat. Use your mobility and look to exploit a flank etc.
I’m putting the Japanese away for a year or two until the Japanese campaign supplement arrives.
What to try next I wonder ?