I recall in history class learning that the Japanese could have attacked the USSR in the 1940s and potentially split Stalin's forces - which presumably would have been more useful for the Nazis than bringing the US into the war.

Which would indicate that Japan wasn't part of the Axis in any real way.

At the same time, after Pearl Harbour, the Nazis declared war on the US (siding with the Japanese), indicating a close relationship.

But again, I cannot imagine the Japanese fitting into the Aryan image if the Russians didn't...

So, did the Nazis have a relationship with Imperial Japan? If not, why are they always referred to as the Axis?

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    Welcome to History.SE! My personal guess (which probably isn't correct) would be that if the Nazis and Japanese had won the war, they would have eventually turned on each other regardless. Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 0:20
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  • The Japanese were sometimes regarded as Honorary Aryans
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 12:46
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    "But again, I cannot imagine the Japanese fitting into the Aryan image if the Russians didn't... " - this is irrelevant because there was no substantial racial theory that would be official in Germany except "Jews are bad" and "Russians are natural slaves" because they are "Slavs" (the words coincide in German).
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 20:01
  • Keeping the USA away and hoping that the Sowjets don't attack was far from the only trouble the Japanese had during WW II. They were also busy with attacking China. Conquering and occupying China is a highly complicated matter, and the most efficient way to do this is with Chinese allies and with a complete disregard for human life. The former was not the case however, and Japan had to fight not one, but two opponents: the Communists under Mao Zedong, and the Kuomintang unter Chiang Kai-shek. They rarely cooperated perfectly, but they were able to fight the Japanese to a standstill.
    – MauganRa
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 13:52

5 Answers 5


The formal German-Japanese relationship in World War II (as part of the Axis) was established in the Tripartite Pact of 1940 (see also Anti-Comintern Pact).

The "Axis powers" formally took the name after the Tripartite Pact was signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on 27 September 1940, in Berlin. The pact was subsequently joined by Hungary (20 November 1940), Romania (23 November 1940), Slovakia (24 November 1940), and Bulgaria (1 March 1941). Its most militarily powerful members were Germany and Japan. These two nations had also signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936.

Inevitably, theirs was a complicated relationship. This is from Conrad Black's Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom:

The German invasion of Russia [in 1941] came as a complete shock to the Japanese. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, had undercut the former Japanese policy of pursuing a joint German-Japanese anti-Soviet policy and came just as the Russians, under future Marshal Georgi Zhukov, decisively defeated the Japanese in a multi-division "border incident" at Nomonhan.


German racialism was historically flexible enough to accomodate pro-Chinese and pro-Japanese reconfigurations. Japan did not attack the Soviet Union as it was manifestly not in the interests of Japan to do so after the Nomohan incident (see Battles of Khalkhin Gol at the encyclopaedia). Germany did maintain diplomatic and political links with Japan. Some technology transfer occurred, and some trade in incredibly high value strategic goods. The level of coordination and trade was far less than the relationship between Britain and China for example. Yet China is one of the Allies. Propaganda often obscures the real relationships between states.


The original "Axis" was the Berlin-Rome Axis. When Japan was added, it became the "Three Power Pact."

Even so, Germany had a higher regard for Japan (although Asian) than for its Italian allies. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hitler exulted, "We cannot lose this war. We have an ally that has not been defeated in 350 years."

At some level, Germany considered Japan part of the Axis (and an "ally") because of shared fascistic and militaristic tendencies. Whether Japan "reciprocated" is a matter of debate. But they considered themselves to have common enemies in Britain and the United States.

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    Your first sentence is incorrect, Japan and Nazi Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact almost a year before Italy signed it.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 1:19
  • @YannisRizos: According to this source, the Axis was signed on October 21, 1936, and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact November 25, 1936 pacificwar.org.au/historicalbackground/HitlerfindsAlly.html
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 1:25
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    Mussolini first used the word "axis" when announcing that he signed a "treaty of friendship" with Nazi Germany in Nov 1, 1936, he boasted that Europe would revolve around the Berlin-Rome axis. This document is probably what your link refers to as a formal alliance, but I can't find any source for any official document signed between the two countries at that time. My guess is what Mussolini referred to wasn't exactly formal but the groundwork for the Anti-Comintern Pact, and Japan was part of the negotiations from early on.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 1:44

You shouldn't give too much credit to the idea of a coherent Nazi ideology.

One commenter put it: there was no substantial racial theory that would be official in Germany except "Jews are bad" and "Russians are natural slaves" because they are "Slavs" (the words coincide in German)

This is correct. Moreover, Hitler's confused racialism didn't seem to bend any more to expediency than it did to internal consistency. As other commenters noted, Hitler in his unwisdom considered both Chinese and Japanese to be valid races, despite the fact they were at war and he had to pick a side. Contrariwise, he said that the Indians deserved no better than British domination, despite the clear opportunity of using them to undermine the allies.

From Japan's perspective, the Germans were a means to an end. A faction which wanted to attack the Soviets was derided as 'Hitler's office boys', and defeated by the 'southern' faction which argued for an invasion of China. Japan's performance against the Soviets in border clashes had been quite poor.

To Japan, the worst thing about Britain, France and America was that they were nearby. The best thing about Germany was that they were far away.

That being said, Germany and Japan shared intelligence and cooperated to the extent possible. I remember reading on Wikipedia about an incident involving an Italian submarine that arrived in Japanese held waters after the defection of Victor Emmanuel. The crew were out of radio contact and had no idea of the cleavage between the King and Mussolini.

When they arrived, the Japanese hauled them out and made them declare either for the co-belligerent Kingdom of Italy under the control of the Allies, or the Republic of Salo declared by Mussolini. Those that declared for the king were made POWs. That they did something like this suggests they had at least some commitment to the Axis. The path of least resistance would have been just to confiscate the sub and escort all the crew out of the country.

  • You're description of nazi ideology is not correct. You're denying it its ideological bases. Like the "slaves" = Slavs, which is exact in the sense of a high number of Slavs were slaves in the Ottoman empire, but had nothing to do with the nazis Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 19:33
  • I don't really follow what in my answer you are saying is incorrect.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 19:36
  • The thing about nazi ideology at the beginnign. But it does not affect the rest of the answer :) Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 20:07

As for why the Japanese did not attack the Soviet Union when Germany did, possibly the Japanese were wondering why Germany couldn't have attacked the Soviet Union in 1939 when it would have been useful to Japan. (See Soviet-Japanese Border conflicts .) Japan as it turns out had just signed a Neutrality Pact with the Soviet Union in April 1941, to defuse the tension that had been a result of their 1939 border war, so they could focus on the Pacific. It wasn't in their strategic interest to do an about-face at that point.

The basic problem is that Germany couldn't credibly offer to partition the Soviet Union with Japan, since all the goodies (the wheat field of Ukraine and the oil deposits in Azerbaijan, not to mention the access to Persia) would have fallen in the German half. Japan on the other hand needed to secure oil by taking what is now Malaysia and Indonesia. Attacking the Soviet Union would have been a distraction they couldn't afford.

  • Some preliminary research may had help this answer...
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 20:52
  • I did. It's not easy to insert links from my phone.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 21:50
  • On the other hand, I'm sure you could have proofread your grammar.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 21:51
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    If you do some research, you may have realized that Japan didn't declare war on the Soviet Union in 1938-39, hardly even acknowledged these conflicts, so expecting another country to do so to "help" would be kind of bizarre. But +1 point because you have a nice grammar. Also, you may want to check what was the motivation of Japan fighting with SU / Russia in the first place (hint: it wasn't Ukraine or oil) and the internal conflicts between Imperial Army and Navy.
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 15:15
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    You said the Japanese weren't interested in occupying eastern areas of the USSR, but that isn't quite true. Twenty years previously, they used the Russian Civil War as an excuse to occupy Vladivostok & other parts of Siberia & sent 70,000 (!) troops to accomplish this task. They weren't finally dislodged from Siberia until 1925. Prior to 1939 Hokushin-ron, the army-backed 'northern road' doctrine of attacking the USSR, was taken seriously. It was discredited by the army's defeats in border wars & lost out to the navy-backed Nanshin-ron, or 'southern road' policy of attacking China.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 18:06

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