Doihara in a press photo in Tokyo during 1936, by then a Lt. General

With the Japanese samurai all means are permissible as long as they lead to the end in view. To them it is smart to lie, to cheat, to deceive, to intrigue, to be double-faced, hypocritical, provided it pays or brings power. It is in their nature to be false.

Amleto Vespa – former secret agent for Japan

In 1853 the United States sent four warships under Commodore Matthew Perry to barge open trade relations with Japan. The Japanese stalled and so Perry returned to Tokyo Bay a year later with more ships and hinted at war if an agreement was not reached. For centuries Japan had isolated itself from the world and until the coming of Perry it existed in an introspective, feudal cocoon. No one was allowed to leave Japan and no one could visit, with few exceptions. Perry’s arrival changed everything and Japan soon embraced the modern, industrial era, with Western experts advising on everything from postal systems to army reform.

The arrival of so many foreigners caused a schism in Japanese society that affected political life. Although Japan was nominally ruled by an emperor, since the 1600s military dictators known as shoguns had run the country. After several revolts, in 1868 imperial power was restored to the young Emperor Meiji (1852–1912), who passed a series of laws heralding a policy of Westernization and tolerance to foreigners.

While Japan eagerly embraced everything the West had to offer, few Westerners realized the bitterness felt by many Japanese toward foreigners. A philosophy known as Hakko Ichiu (Eight Corners of the World under One Rule) took hold of Japan, which preached a doctrine of racial superiority and the divine right of the Japanese people to do pretty much as they pleased. Japan was said to be at the centre of the world and the tenno (emperor) was a divine being directly descended from the Goddess of the Sun. The Japanese people, furthermore, were protected by their gods and were thus superior to all others. The Hakko Ichiu also had a profound impact on foreign policy, Japan having been given a divine mission to bring all nations under the beneficial rule of the tenno.

To realize these divinely inspired ambitions, Japan needed a modern espionage system. Adopting the German model, Japanese officials were sent to study under Wilhelm Stieber in the mid-1870s. Over the next decade Japan built up separate army and naval intelligence services, each with an accompanying branch of secret military police (Kempeitai for the army and Tokeitai for the navy). These latter organizations also provided an excellent counter-espionage service. However, where the Japanese were unique was in the use of spies belonging to unofficial secret societies working alongside or independently of the official intelligence agencies. These shadowy institutions were ultra-nationalist by nature, drawing their membership from a cross-section of Japanese society, including the military, politics, industry and Yakuza underworld. Under ruthless leadership, their henchmen would spy on, subvert and corrupt Japan’s Far East neighbours.

Perhaps the biggest losers in the Meiji Restoration were samurai warriors – the knights of the shogunate era. As Japan modernized and built an army based on universal conscription, the samurai found themselves an unwanted anachronism – even banned from publicly carrying their swords. Known as ronin, masterless samurai gravitated towards new urban centres where, unwilling to give up their martial way of life, they turned to crime. Realizing their potential, gang leader Mitsuru Toyama (1855–1944) organized the ronin into an effective force of hired muscle specializing in strikebreaking and assassination. Demand for Toyama’s services saw doors opened for him to the highest levels of society. Soon he was one of the most influential figures in the ultra-nationalist underworld, known to many by the sinister appellation ‘Darkside Emperor’ or ‘Shadow Shogun’.

An exponent of Japanese expansion, Toyama became the guiding hand of the Genyosha or Dark Ocean Society formed in 1881 by Kotaro Hiraoka – a rich samurai mine owner with an eye on business opportunities in Manchuria. To collect intelligence on the region and its Triad gangs, Toyama dispatched a hundred Genyosha agents to China. The most effective front for their espionage operations came through activities in the vice trade, with the Genyosha setting up bordellos in Hankow, Shanghai, Tientsin, Pusan and Russian-controlled Central Asia. The most noted of these was the ‘Hall of Pleasurable Delights’ at Hankow. Based on Stieber’s ‘The Green House’, this brothel was extremely popular among Chinese politicians and Triad bosses. While providing a safe house for Japanese spies, it brought in funds for the Genyosha’s clandestine activities and provided ample means to blackmail clients or find potential allies among the growing number of Chinese revolutionaries.

The name ‘Dark Ocean’ referred to the genkai nada – the stretch of water between Japan and Korea, hinting at the location of the group’s first major operation. The close proximity of the Korean peninsula to the Japanese islands gave it considerable strategic value as a springboard into East Asia and as a defensive buffer against China and Russia. At the behest of the minister of war, Soroku Kawakami, Toyama and another leading Genyosha member, Ryohei Uchida, set up the Tenyukyo, a group of 15 hand-picked agent provocateurs sent into Korea as agitators.

Once inside the country the Tenyukyo established contact with the Tonghaks, a radical Korean terrorist group. Together they waged such a campaign of terror that the Korean emperor was compelled to ask China for help. As obliging Chinese troops gathered on the border, Japanese hawks were presented with the excuse they had been hoping for. After condemnation of China’s ‘aggressive’ intervention (the Chinese had not actually entered Korea yet), Japanese troops were landed and, claiming to be acting in defence of Korean sovereignty, they seized the royal palace in Seoul on 23 July 1894. The ensuing conflict, which was declared a few days later on 1 August, saw a quick succession of Japanese victories against the Chinese on land and sea, leaving part of Manchuria and the island of Formosa (Taiwan) in Japanese hands.

Despite the victory, war had stretched Japan’s resources to the limit and rival nations were quick to detect the scent of vulnerability. Pressure from France, Germany and in particular Russia obliged Japan to give up its mainland gains in China. Russia formed an alliance with China against Japan in 1896, which gave it important strategic gains including the lease of Port Arthur (1898) and rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Manchuria to the Russian seaport of Vladivostok.

It was clear to the Genyosha leadership that this growing Russian influence would have to be checked. However, after the Korean episode, the society’s activities had come to the attention of headline writers. The unwanted publicity increased after Toyama’s disciples assassinated the Korean princess Bin and terrorized the Korean emperor into seeking refuge in Russia. Its high profile made the Genyosha unsuitable for conducting further secret operations, so in 1898 the group dissolved. Toyama instead formed the East Asia One Culture Society, a pan-Asian group with the ambition of formulating a common system of writing in the region. To help accomplish this, the group formed the Tung Wen College in Shanghai. Still operational in 1945, the Tung Wen College had thousands of graduates working from India to the Philippines. Of course the whole project was a sham front for espionage operations – the Chinese always referred to the Tung Wen as ‘the Japanese Spy School’.

In 1901, under Toyama’s direction, his Black Ocean comrade Ryohei Uchida formed the Kokuryu-kai, or Black Dragon Society. Like the Genyosha before it, the clue to the group’s ambitions lay in its name, which really implied ‘Beyond the Amur River’, the river separating northern Manchuria and Siberia. In Chinese the Amur translates to Black Dragon River, hence the origin of the society’s most common name.

Initially the group recruited its soshi (lit. brave knights) from patriotic ronin and avoided the criminal types increasingly predominant in the Genyosha. As word of their activities spread, other crusaders for the Japanese imperial cause sought membership. Although the society quickly boasted members in upper governmental and military circles, the group was not always in line with government policy, nor did it receive official sanction.

As war with Russia approached, the group successfully lobbied for the appointment of Colonel Motojiro Akashi as military attaché to St Petersburg. Akashi was an excellent intelligence officer sympathetic to the Black Dragons’ aims. He had previously served as military attaché at Japanese embassies in Sweden, France and Switzerland. In these posts he established that Western Europe would not come to the aid of tsarist Russia if it were attacked by Japan.

While fulfilling his duties, Akashi made secret contact with anti-tsarist revolutionary cells inside Russia and around Europe. In return for financial aid, these groups provided Akashi with intelligence on the Russian military and secret services. He also made contact with Abdur Rashid Ibrahim, a Tartar Muslim who provided important information on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur. More intelligence came out of Port Arthur from the British agent Sidney Reilly who had met Akashi in St Petersburg. Reilly had set up a sham company in Port Arthur to provide him with a cover story while he spied on Russian defences for Akashi.

In addition to Akashi’s work, Japanese spies posing as coolies and dockworkers infiltrated Russian bases in Manchuria. The Black Dragons were at the forefront of these actions. They sent agents into Manchuria and Siberia – and even opened a ju-jitsu school in Vladivostok to provide a front for their operations against the Russians. They observed troop and naval movements, building up detailed information on the Russian order of battle and logistics. They also had an agent in the north of Manchuria, Hajime Hamamoto, who ran a general store near to a Russian army base. By seducing wives of Russian officers, Hamamoto was able to glean important information from them, which was passed on to Military Intelligence in Japan via an agent in Vladivostok.

These secret operations gave Japan a major advantage in the war, which began on 8 February 1904 with a Japanese surprise attack on Port Arthur, two days before a formal declaration of war was made. Moving to Stockholm, Akashi stretched Russian resources, stirring up Russian and Finnish revolutionaries. On a more practical level, Black Dragon agents acted as interpreters and guides for the Japanese army, organizing guerrilla operations with allied Manchurian warlords such as Marshal Chang Tso-lin.

Japan slowly wore down the Russian opposition, capturing Port Arthur and Mukden (now Shenyang). The Russians were finally forced to agree terms with Japan after its fleet was smashed at the battle of Tsushima (27–29 May 1905). A conference was held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, resulting in Japan gaining control of Port Arthur and the South Manchurian railroad. Russia evacuated southern Manchuria, which was restored to China, and Japan’s dominance of Korea was recognized.

With Russia out of the way, the Black Dragons turned their focus to China. Having met the revolutionaries Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) and Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) in Tokyo during 1905, the Black Dragons subsidized the 1911 overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty, which made China a republic. However, this assistance was given only to destabilize China and facilitate Japan’s seizure of Manchuria – a long-term ambition of the Black Dragons.

The hunt began for a stooge in whose name the seizure of Manchuria would be justified and world opinion placated. One candidate had been identified by the Black Dragon Naniwa Kawashima, an old samurai and veteran of the Russo-Japanese war. After the war Kawashima found himself chief of police in the Japanese section of Peking. In the course of his duties he befriended his opposite number, Prince Su Chin Wang, head of Peking’s Chinese police force. Prince Su was one of eight princes of the Iron Helmet, traditionally the emperor’s closest companions, which in Kawashima’s opinion gave him the right pedigree. Prince Su agreed to the plan, but it did not receive support from the Japanese government and floundered, much to the Black Dragons’ disappointment. Su went on to form an anti-Republican army in the northeast together with the Mongol general Babojab. When this army was defeated, Su retired to Port Arthur where he died in April 1922. The search for a suitable puppet shifted from Su to the deposed Chinese emperor.

Pu Yi (1906–67), the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, had ascended to the throne in 1908 before his third birthday. Since 1925 Pu Yi had lived in a villa – the Chang, or Quiet, Garden – inside the Japanese concession of Tientsin, where he enjoyed a playboy lifestyle with his increasingly opium-addicted wife ‘Elizabeth’ Wan Jung. Faced with the crippling cost of maintaining his royal trappings, Pu Yi was desperate to regain the throne and hoped he might find support among the Black Dragons. He was well informed of their activities, recording in his memoirs how the society had taken hold in China:

[It] started out with bases in Foochow, Yentai (Chefoo) and Shanghai and operated under such covers as consulates, schools and photographers … its membership was said to have reached several hundred thousand with correspondingly huge funds. Toyama Mitsuru was the most famous of its leaders and under his direction its members had penetrated every stratum of Chinese society. At the side of Ching nobles and high officials and among peddlers and servants, including the attendants in the Chang Garden. Many Japanese personalities were disciples of Toyama’s.

Pu Yi agreed to discuss his restoration with a Black Dragon agent named Tsukuda Nobuo. However, because the Black Dragons’ policy was not shared by the Japanese government, when Nobuo learned the local Japanese consul had also been invited to the interview, he pulled out and promptly disappeared. Puzzled at the agent’s behaviour, Pu Yi sent his advisor and tutor, Chang Hsiao-hsu, to Japan to make contact with the Black Dragons directly.

In the meantime, plans were set to seize Manchuria and its vast, unexploited resources. Since the war with Russia, Japan controlled the South Manchurian Railway, which it protected with a body of troops known as the Kwantung Army based in the Japanese concession at Mukden. Before Manchuria could be seized the powerful Manchurian warlord Marshal Chang Tso-lin had to be eliminated. A former Japanese ally in the war against Russia, the marshal opposed the growing Japanese influence in the region. In 1928 the Japanese assassinated the marshal by bombing his train, leaving Manchuria ripe for the taking. The following year intelligence specialist Colonel Seishiro Itagaki was posted to the Kwantung Army to make the final plans for the seizure of Manchuria. His plan was a masterpiece of ruse and treachery.

On the evening of 18 September 1931, Japanese sappers secretly planted explosives near to the track of the South Manchurian Railway. The objective was not to destroy the tracks, but to give the impression that Chinese saboteurs had attempted to derail a passing train. The Japanese quickly condemned the ‘attack’ and launched a ‘retaliatory’ attack against the Chinese in Mukden. To ensure a successful outcome, two heavy-calibre guns had been hidden in a ‘swimming pool’ constructed at the Japanese officers’ club. One gun was trained on the Chinese constabulary barracks, the other at the air force base at Mukden airport. When news of the ‘attack’ on the railway reached the Japanese garrison, the guns opened fire on the sleeping Chinese. It was a massacre.

News of the ‘battle’ quickly travelled to Port Arthur, where Lieutenant-General Honjo ordered an all-out attack by the 20,000-strong Kwantung Army. In a feat of unparalleled military efficiency, Honjo’s men were already mobilized before his orders arrived. The rival Chinese troops were caught on the back foot and, under general orders not to engage Japanese forces, were pushed back to the Sungari River. This attack left most of southern Manchuria in Japanese hands for the loss of just two men.

The outside world condemned the ‘Mukden Incident’ as a blatant case of Japanese aggression. However, Pu Yi saw it as an opportunity to take up the throne of his native Manchuria. Eight days after the incident, Colonel Itagaki arrived in Tientsin and offered Pu Yi the throne. To his surprise, the former emperor’s advisors urged caution, suspicious that a ‘mere colonel’ was making the offer rather than Japanese politicians. Pausing for thought, Pu Yi wrote to Toyama asking him to clarify the situation.

Three weeks later, Pu Yi was introduced to a senior member of the Kwantung Army, Colonel Kenji Doihara (1883–1948). Another of Toyama’s acolytes, Doihara was an intelligence officer and had been active in northern China and Siberia for some considerable time. Even among the pantheon of villains that were his contemporaries, Doihara stands out as a particularly loathsome individual. His rise to infamy began with tricking his 15-year-old sister into posing nude for some photographs. Armed with the developed pictures, the loving brother touted them to a Japanese imperial prince who was so impressed he made her his number one concubine. In return for this favour, Doihara was posted as an assistant to General Honjo, military attaché to Peking.

Doihara must not be dismissed as a simple thug. He had a deserved reputation as a linguist, claiming to speak nine European languages and four Chinese dialects faultlessly. He enjoyed the attention of Western journalists who dubbed him the ‘Lawrence of the East’ for the way he adopted Chinese costume on his many travels round the country recruiting spies and seeking out potential allies. In 1928 he became military advisor to Marshal Chang and was almost certainly involved in his assassination, after which he was promoted to colonel. In 1931 Doihara was head of the Japanese Special Service Organ in Mukden and was declared mayor of the city after the attack on 19 September.

Doihara arrived at the Quiet Garden villa and offered Pu Yi the throne of Manchuria. Pu Yi knew that Doihara was a ‘disciple’ of Toyama and recorded his opinion of the colonel in his memoirs. Although at first taken in by him, Pu Yi came to realize – too late – the full depth of Doihara’s mendacity:

Because of the mysterious stories that were told about him the Western press described him as the ‘Lawrence of the East’ and the Chinese papers said that he usually wore Chinese clothes and was fluent in several Chinese dialects. But it seems to me that if all his activities were like persuading me to go to the Northeast [Manchuria] he would have had no need for the cunning and ingenuity of a Lawrence: the gambler’s ability to keep a straight face while lying would have been enough.

Doihara asked Pu Yi to travel to Mukden from where he would be placed on the Manchu throne. His sovereignty would be guaranteed by the Kwantung Army, which of course said it had no territorial ambitions in Manchuria. Eager for power, Pu Yi agreed in principle, but sought assurances from Doihara that he would not be merely a Japanese puppet. Doihara assured, but still Pu Yi dithered. It appeared that the empress did not trust the Japanese and would not agree to leave Tientsin. Frustrated, Doihara needed help and so called on Itagaki for advice. The author of the Mukden Incident answered Doihara’s call by playing the joker in the Japanese pack – the Manchu-born agent known as ‘Eastern Jewel’.

The daughter of the pro-Japanese prince Su Chin Wang, Eastern Jewel was born in 1907. In 1913 she was given to the Black Dragon Naniwa Kawashima for adoption as a mark of friendship between the two men. Arriving in Japan, she was renamed Yoshiko Kawashima and educated at the Matsumato school for girls. She was a thrill seeker and tomboy, with a voracious sexual appetite which she claimed was awakened by her adoptive grandfather at 15. After a string of affairs, an arranged marriage was set up for the 21-year-old Eastern Jewel with the Mongol prince Kanjurjab, son of her biological father’s ally, General Babob.

The marriage – which took place in Port Arthur during November of 1927 – was seen as a means of cementing influence in Mongolia, where Japan held territorial ambitions. However, Eastern Jewel claimed that the marriage was never consummated and she quickly ditched the prince. She plunged headlong into the depths of Tokyo’s wild, bohemian underbelly. Outgrowing her adopted land, she travelled widely and even turned up as a houseguest of Pu Yi and the empress at Tientsin in 1928. With similar family backgrounds, Elizabeth and Eastern Jewel struck up an improbable relationship, the closeted empress in turns captivated by and envious of Eastern Jewel’s lurid and exotic exploits.

Eastern Jewel was in seedy Shanghai, having just walked out on a Japanese politician who had run out of money. On the prowl for a new sponsor she daringly set her sights on Major Tanaka, the head of the Shanghai secret service – or Special Service Organ. Attending a New Year party she ushered Tanaka to a discreet location and attempted to seduce him. Tanaka resisted the advances of the Manchu princess, explaining that it would be disrespectful for him – a commoner – to take her to bed. Eastern Jewel was not so easily deterred and dishonoured herself by borrowing money from Tanaka, finally breaking his resistance through a shared fetish for leather boots. Tanaka was impressed by Eastern Jewel’s forward manner and put her on the secret service payroll to fund her whims. Tanaka also paid for her English lessons, believing she might one day prove useful as a spy.

Returning to the matter of Pu Yi and the throne, Itagaki sent a telegram to Shanghai ordering Tanaka to report to Mukden. Fearful of being disgraced for lavishing official funds on his mistress, Tanaka left for Mukden on 1 October 1931. At the subsequent interview Itagaki revealed Doihara had been sent to get Pu Yi and that the Japanese forces were planning the next stage of their advance into Manchuria with the capture of Harbin. Tanaka was charged with keeping the League of Nations’ attention fixed away from Manchuria by provoking a disturbance in Shanghai. Tanaka told Itagaki he had the perfect agent in mind and was surprised – not to mention worried – when Itagaki said he knew all about Eastern Jewel. He then revealed the trouble Doihara was having with the implacable Elizabeth and mentioned he might need to borrow Eastern Jewel. Itagaki gave Tanaka $10,000, which he used to clear Eastern Jewel’s debts and begin the preparations for his Shanghai diversion.

Subsequent to this interview, Doihara wired Shanghai for Eastern Jewel. Calling in a favour from a pilot boyfriend, she flew to Tientsin that same evening. Anxious to make a lasting first impression on Doihara, Eastern Jewel disguised herself in the robes of a Chinese gentleman. She arrived and immediately caused a stir by refusing to divulge her name to the desk sergeant at Doihara’s headquarters. Suspecting treachery was afoot, Doihara placed a revolver on his desk and opened the inquisition.

‘Your name, please?’ he asked. ‘My name is of no importance,’ replied Eastern Jewel, ‘I have come to help you.’ ‘You speak like a eunuch,’ Doihara retorted. ‘Are you one of Pu Yi’s men?’ Eastern Jewel simply laughed in reply. Doihara grabbed his samurai sword. ‘Very well then, if you won’t tell me who you are, let us see what you are.’ Drawing the sword, he began to away cut the ties to her robe. Eastern Jewel did not move, but continued to stare at Doihara provocatively. Doihara flicked open the robe and ‘with a guttural samurai yell’ cut open the silk scarf she bound her breasts with. ‘I saw that she was a woman’ Doihara later confessed, ‘so I conducted a thorough investigation and determined that I had not put even the smallest scratch on any part of her white skin.’

Next day, Eastern Jewel visited the Quiet Garden and heard Elizabeth’s views on the proposed move to Mukden. She was able to report to Doihara that the empress was implacably opposed to any move to Mukden and it would take extreme measures to convince Pu Yi to travel alone. Growing impatient, Doihara resorted to terror tactics. He told Pu Yi that a price had been put on his head by Chang Hsueh-liang, the son of the murdered Marshal Chang. To lend credence to Doihara’s warnings, Eastern Jewel placed some snakes in Pu Yi’s bed. On 8 November bombs were hidden in a basket of fruit delivered anonymously to the Quiet Garden. Pu Yi recalled: ‘an assistant came running into the room shouting “bombs, two bombs”. I was sitting in an armchair and this news gave me such a fright that I was incapable of standing up.’ Eastern Jewel called the Japanese guards who came rushing in led by one of Doihara’s henchmen. He took the bombs away and then later revealed they had been manufactured by stooges of the late marshal’s son.

More was to follow. Along with warning letters, Pu Yi received a telephoned tip-off from ‘a waiter’ at his favourite Victoria Café that men with concealed weapons had been enquiring after him. Doihara then arranged for a crowd of Chinese agents to make trouble in the Chinese-administered part of the city. On 10 November martial law was declared and Japanese armoured cars surrounded the Quiet Garden to defend Pu Yi, whose nerve began to crack. Scared out of his wits, Pu Yi at last agreed to go to Mukden, travelling without the empress on Eastern Jewel’s advice. After dark he was bundled into the trunk of a car and driven to the docks by his Japanese interpreter. Elizabeth, meanwhile, was comforted by a heady mix of Eastern Jewel and opium until reunited with Pu Yi in Port Arthur six weeks later.

Eastern Jewel returned to Shanghai and began preparations with Tanaka for what became known as the Fake War. She hired gangs of Chinese street thugs and provided them with lists of Japanese business and residential addresses to attack. After the attacks began on 18 January 1932, Tanaka stoked up indignation in the Japanese community. Outraged by two more days of attacks, an ultimatum was delivered by the Japanese consul general to the Chinese mayor to stop them. However, with Eastern Jewel controlling the thugs, the Chinese mayor had little chance of success. In the face of Chinese impotence Admiral Shiozawa felt justified in landing his Imperial Marines to protect Japanese nationals. Tanaka’s mission was accomplished.

While engineering the arrival of the Japanese troops, Eastern Jewel had been busy in her now familiar role of seductress extraordinaire. The son of the Chinese republican Sun Yat-sen happened to be in town and soon fell victim to Eastern Jewel, confiding in her the rivalries in the Chinese camp. She also acted as a weathervane on international reaction to the Japanese actions. Putting her English lessons to good use, she took a British military attaché as a lover. From his pillow talk she was able to tell Tanaka that the West was unlikely to back its vigorous condemnations with any real action.

After the Shanghai incident, Eastern Jewel took up with a string of lovers. Her extravagance became so great that Tanaka offloaded her to Pu Yi’s chief military advisor, Major-General Hayao Tada. She was also indulged with the command of 5,000 Manchu ‘rough riders’, the captains of which she selected personally to her own exacting criteria of manhood. During the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937, Eastern Jewel caused outrage among the Chinese when she was seen walking through the ruined streets laughing with Japanese officers. It was rumoured she had even flown over the city in a bomber. When Peking fell to the Japanese in 1937, Eastern Jewel formed part of the administration. She abused her power by blackmailing wealthy Chinese with false accusations of assisting the enemy. Once noted for her beauty, Eastern Jewel’s debauched lifestyle began to weather her looks, although her libido remained undiminished. She found it increasingly harder to attract men and had an actor arrested on trumped-up charges of theft because he spurned her advances. Instead she increasingly began to explore her fantasies with local sing-song girls. Even Tanaka was moved to describe her later conduct as ‘beyond common sense’. At the end of the war Eastern Jewel declined an offer to return to Japan and went into hiding. Acting on a tip-off, Chiang Kai-shek’s counter-intelligence officers picked her up in November 1945. On 25 March 1948 Eastern Jewel was led to a wooden block and decapitated by a swordsman.

After the Pu Yi drama, Doihara began recruiting agents in the newly conquered territories. He broadened the Special Service Organ’s network of spies throughout southern Manchuria, utilizing large numbers of Russian refugees who had fled the Soviet Union. Desperate for employment, the men worked for Doihara as hired thugs, while women filled the brothels. European women were much in demand and acted as opium peddlers, receiving a free pipe for every six they sold.

One of Doihara’s converts was Italian-born spy Amleto Vespa, a one-time agent of Marshal Chang who had since managed a cinema. A fascist sympathizer and former member of the Mexican Revolutionary Army, Vespa had travelled extensively, coming to work with Marshal Chang Tso-lin in 1920. To avoid trouble with the Italian authorities, Vespa had obtained Chinese citizenship. Because of this, after the Mukden Incident Vespa found himself under the Japanese yoke without the usual protection afforded to Westerners. He was forced to work for the Japanese, running the spy service in Harbin until 1936 when he managed to get out of China with his family. Vespa wrote a remarkable book detailing Japan’s brutal clandestine activities in Manchuria. He was taken to meet Doihara on 14 February 1932, an encounter described in his book. Vespa disliked the man intensely:

Foreign journalists had referred to colonel Doihara as the Japanese ‘Lawrence of Manchuria’. I suspect, however, that if his sister had not been concubine of a Japanese Imperial Prince most of his success would have been still in his imagination.

Doihara left Vespa under no illusions about where his future loyalties belonged. If Vespa disobeyed, Doihara would shoot him. Vespa was told to return the following day and be introduced to the chief of the Japanese secret service in Manchuria. Vespa never discovered the true identity of this man, but many believe he must have been a Japanese prince close to Emperor Hirohito. The ensuing interview revealed the true extent of Japanese secret operations in Manchuria. In perfect English the mysterious chief told Vespa:

‘If Colonel Doihara has told you anything unpleasant, please pay no attention to it. Since, in other countries, they call him the Japanese Lawrence, he delights in showing his greatness by his hectoring manner. He has worked under me for many years, however, and I have no hesitation in saying he is much less of a Lawrence than he thinks he is.’

With remarkable candour, the chief explained how it was Japanese policy to make colonies pay for themselves. The Japanese system was to secretly grant certain monopolies to trusted individuals. Naturally the monopolies changed hands for enormous sums, in return for which the holder gained Japanese protection. The principal monopolies were the free transportation of goods by railway under the guise of Japanese military supplies; the monopoly of opium smoking dens, the sale of narcotics, poppy cultivation, the running of gambling houses and the importation of Japanese prostitutes – 70,000 Korean and Japanese prostitutes were shipped to Manchuria in the year after the Mukden Incident.

Although very strict on drug abuse at home, the Japanese flooded Manchuria with narcotics. Throughout the 1930s Manchurian streets were littered with wasted addicts and the corpses of emaciated overdose victims. To meet the demand, soya-bean farms were turned over to poppy production and drug-processing plants were set up along with ‘shooting-galleries’ for those too poor to enjoy the comforts of an opium den. Vespa revealed:

In Mukden, in Harbin, in Kirin etc., one cannot find a street where there are no opium-smoking dens or narcotic shops. In many streets the Japanese and Korean dealers have established a very simple and effective system. The morphine, cocaine or heroin addict does not have to enter the place if he is poor. He simply knocks at the door, a small peep-hole opens, though which he thrusts his bare arm and hand with 20 cents in it. The owner of the joint takes the money and gives the victim a shot in the arm.

The Japanese didn’t need bullets to kill Chinese; the drugs would do it for them – and at a profit.

By 1938 Doihara was the commander of the Kwantung Army. Based in Shanghai he successfully penetrated Chang Kai-shek’s headquarters with spies. Operating under the pseudonym of ‘Ito Soma’ and posing as a Japanese financier, Doihara managed to befriend the republican leader’s personal assistant, Huang-sen. His hook, improbable as it may sound, was a shared passion for goldfish, Doihara being an authority on the subject. In return for information and the procurement of rare goldfish, Huang-sen spied for Doihara. His information was used to foil a Chinese plan to attack Japanese shipping in the Yangtse River. The failure of the plan led to an investigation, after which Huang-sen was exposed and executed by the republicans. A follow-up investigation led in 1938 to the execution of eight Chinese divisional commanders, all of whom were found working for Doihara.

Later, as an air force major-general, Doihara sat on Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s Supreme War Council. Doihara was present at the session of 4 November 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor was decided. He went on to command the army in Singapore (1944–45) and ran brutal POW and internee camps in Malaya, Sumatra, Java and Borneo. Doihara was tried at the Tokyo war crimes trial and executed on 23 December 1948 by hanging. He was joined by Seishiro Itagaki, the author of the Mukden Incident, and Prime Minister Tojo, the former Kwantung Army leader. Eastern Jewel’s case officer, Tanaka, was more fortunate, surviving to tell the tale. Having opposed the decision to attack America, he retired in 1942. After the war he was an aide to the tribunal’s chief American prosecutor, Joseph Keenan. Tanaka claimed he even procured girls for the American.

As for the Black Dragons, their reputation as sinister arch-plotters meant that they were not ignored in the round-up of war criminals in 1945. General MacArthur banned the group on 13 September 1945 and ordered the arrest of seven leadership figures. He need not have bothered. Of the seven, two had never been members, a third had died of old age in 1938, while a fourth had committed suicide in 1943. The other three suspects had once been members but had renounced their membership long before.

In truth the Black Dragons had long since fallen out of favour and had ceased to be a force in Japan. Their last public meeting was held in October 1935 when Toyama protested at Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia – another episode of white aggression against men of colour, as he saw it. The Japanese police used the meeting as a pretext for a crackdown on the Black Dragons and thereafter the society dwindled to a handful of forgotten diehards working out of a dingy, backstreet Tokyo office.

While Toyama and his disciples continued to view Russia as the main enemy, a new group rose to prominence – the Strike South faction. This group called for expansion into Southeast Asia and Indonesia, rich areas abundant in the resources Japan was lacking. After an undeclared border war with Russia, which culminated in Japan’s defeat at the battle of Khalkhin Gol in August 1939, Tokyo began to favour the new option. There was just a one slight problem with their plan. If a strike south occurred, Japan would inevitably clash with Western interests, particularly those of the British Empire and the United States of America.

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