The Black Ocean Society

The roots of the Black Dragon Society begin in the tumultuous times of the Meiji Restoration. In 1868, the throne of boy Emperor Mutsuhito (Meiji) was restored as the seat of political power, replacing the bakufu which had administered Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate. The bakufu had been brought down in a series of revolts by anti-Western forces whose leaders secretly realized that Japan would have to modernize to take its rightful place in the world. Feudalism was gradually abolished, the daimyo replaced by a new bureaucracy, and the samurai were dissolved as a class, depriving two million men and their families of their ancestral livelihood. While some samurai found positions within the new administration, most were left masterless - ronin, or "wave men." Uncertain of their future and their role in Japanese society, the samurai fixated upon an invasion of Korea as a way to return them to their traditional military role and secure their economic future through the profits of colonialism. When the government decided against the invasion, the samurai rose up in revolt, most strongly in Satsuma in 1877, under the command of Saigo Takamori. Saigo, who had lead the coup d'etat that overthrew the Shogunate, now fought against those forces of Westernization he helped bring to power. Another contradiction in the revolt was that, while it fought the soldiers of the Emperor, Saigo and his followers still revered the Emperor himself, seeing him as trapped on his throne by the machinations of corrupt politicians.

Saigo's revolt was doomed to failure. His forces crushed by the conscript army he had helped build, Saigo was mortally wounded, and he committed ritual suicide. Those samurai who survived the revolt drifted to Kyushu, to the castle town of Fukuoka, where they met in tea houses and brothels. There the disaffected samurai formed societies dedicated to invading Korea, bringing down the Meiji government, and stopping the foreign influence spreading throughout Japan, all in the name of the Emperor. In February 1881, these societies banded together to become Genyosha (the Black Ocean Society) taking their name from the strait known as Genkai Nada, the "Black Sea" that separates Kyushu from the Korean peninsula. Genyosha's primary goal was to cross the Black Ocean and fulfill the Japanese conquest of Korea, but its greater purpose was to respect and honor the fatherland, guard strictly national identity of Japan, and revere the Emperor. Despite their hatred for the government, Genyosha learned from Saigo's failed rebellion that they would have to work within the constitutional framework. They found many supporters among those samurai holding posts in the new bureaucracy, and used these contacts to intrigue against those that did not align with Genyosha's view. Those that could not be bribed were seduced with prostitutes and narcotics within Genyosha-run brothels. Those that could not be seduced were intimidated with blackmail. If necessary, Genyosha would dispatch thugs, often recruited from organized crime - the yakuza - to beat up their opposition. And if that failed, Genyosha resorted to the final option: assassination.

The first president of Genyosha was Hiraoka Kotaro, owner of the richest coal mines in Fukuoka, who only served a short while before leaving to travel in China (while continuing to finance Genyosha). Hiroaka's successor was Hakoda Rokusuke, who supported liberal reform; but, with his death in 1888, Genyosha abandoned such measures and devoted itself to "guarding the national prestige." The third president was Shindo Kihetai, a Diet member and the political boss of Fukuoka. Shindo saw Genyosha as an elite in which he would "raise and train one hundred truly splendid human beings." Whoever the official leadership of Genyosha was at any one time, it was Shindo and the other Fukuoka bosses - Hiraoka, Uchida Ryohei, and Sugiyama Shigemaru - who were the true power within Genyosha. And above them all was Toyama Mitsuru.

Like rest of the bosses of Genyosha, Toyama was of the samurai class, a formidable martial artist and swordsman, a great patron of the game of go, and a veteran of the Satsuma revolt. Though the son of a samurai, Toyama grew up poor in Fukuoka, frequenting dens of iniquity where samurai spoke out against the government. By his twenties, Toyama was under constant police attention for involvement in seditious plots, though he mostly evaded imprisonment. Through his underworld contacts, Toyama organized strike-breaking gangs for the coal miners of Fukuoka, which brought him into the cabal that created Genyosha. While never named the official leader of Genyosha, Toyama became known as the "Genro of the Ronin," the elder statesman of the reactionary faction in Japan, and the driving power behind Genyosha.

Through his contacts in the financial world, Toyama amassed a fortune speculating in the coal mines of Fukuoka. These contacts were the same industrialists that supported Genyosha, including both powerful firms with overseas interests in Manchuria as well as the Zaibatsu (big capitalists) that controlled the Japanese economy. Toyama also financed Genyosha through gambling, prostitution, extortion, opium smuggling, and pornography, and became as large a figure within the underworld of the yakuza as he was in the world of politics. As Toyama's legend as a living symbol of ultranationalism grew, his home in Shibuya became a haven for anti-Western dissidents such as Korean revolutionaries, anti-Manchu nationalists in China, Filipino rebels, White Russians, and anti-British groups in India. Toyama offered these groups financial support in exchange for political intelligence, which was then passed on to the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and the Foreign Office.

In the 1880s, Genyosha expanded its intelligence-gathering network by setting up Rakuzendo (Hall of Pleasurable Delights) in Shanghai and Hankow, which imported pharmaceuticals and beauty products from the West and exported exotic salves and perfumes from the East. The branch managers and salesmen of the Rakuzendo were specially selected to carry out intelligence work while peddling medicines, aphrodisiacs, and pornography on trips throughout China and Central Asia. The Rakuzendo were also used as brothels, where Genyosha mixed prostitution with espionage. These brothels were reknowned in China as being superior to the native variety, offering strange fetishes not available in Chinese bordellos. Genyosha targetted the paymasters of Chinese secret societies, the triads, plying them with prostitutes, drink, and drugs to take both money and information from them. The Rakuzendo also served as a safe hourses for the growing spy network of Genyosha, which expanded in 1891 with the creation of Nisshin Boeki Kenkyujo (Sino-Japanese Commercial Research) in Shanghai. Outwardly teaching hundreds of Japanese businessmen skills in language and geography, Nisshin Boeki Kenkyujo was in fact a school for espionage. The graduates were sent out in teams of twenty throughout China and beyond, to Siam, India, the Philippines, and the South Seas, where they would work for Japanese trading firms while gathering intelligence for the IJA and the Foreign Office. By 1890, Genyosha began to recieve more funds from the Ministry of War than from sponsors like Hiraoka.

Genyosha also came to enjoy a special status with the Home Ministry, who used them to rough up political leaders (particularly leftists) and spread fear during times of crisis to encourage the populace to maintain the status quo. A significant patron of the martial arts, Genyosha either drew from their own ranks for the street-fighting and beatings, or recruited from the Yakuza, with which they made strong ties. By the turn of the century, Genyosha had become the glue holding together a disparate number of elements within Japanese society - the IJA, the Zaibatsu, and the militarist faction within the government.

In 1894, Genyosha's campaign of terror and espionage succeeded in sparking the Sino-Japanese War. With the support of Toyama and the IJA, Uchida Ryohei and fifteen handpicked Genyosha agents created the Tenyukyo (The Society for the Celestial Salvation of the Oppressed) to secretly support the Tonghak, a secret society rebelling against the Yi Dynasty in Korea. Both the Chinese and the Japanese sent troops to suppress the rebellion, but the troops remained after the Tonghak were crushed. This lead to warfare between the two forces, with Japan prevailing; but, the concessions won from China were returned due to diplomatic pressure from Western powers lead by Russia, and the Korean royal court now turned to the Tsar for support. This resulted in the assassination of Queen Min at the hands of Genyosha.

The nationalists in Japan now realized that Russia was their true rival in Asia. A new organization was spawned from Genyosha, which would become infamously known as the Black Dragon Society.

Kokuryukai (The Black Dragon Society)

Written by Gil Trevizo with material by Dave Kish.

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