The Black Dragon Society

While Toyama Mitsuru set forth policy for Genyosha and its many offshoots, the operations were directed by Uchida Ryohei. Having studied Russian in St. Petersburg, Uchida created a new organization aimed at extending Japan's sphere of influence up to the Amur River in northern Manchuria, the Kokuryukai, or Amur River Society. The characters for Amur River (Hei Lung) also represent "black dragon" in both Chinese and Japanese, so Kokuryukai became known as The Black Dragon Society in the West. It was by this name that it would gain its oft-exaggerated reputation as an insidious fifth column of spies straight out of a Sax Roehmer novel.

Originally much more secretive than Genyosha, Kokuryukai recruited everyone from cabinet ministers and military officials to opium smugglers and professional killers. Though Toyama was never listed as a member of Kokuryukai, Uchida had his blessings and he remained a patron till his death in 1944. All of Toyama's political and industrial contacts were at the disposal of Kokuryukai, and it was through Toyama that the Ministry of War and the Foreign Office tapped the society for assistance.

The success of the Sino-Japanese War emboldened the most powerful interests in Japan to support the ultranationalist faction. Kokuryukai now enjoyed lavish funds from the Zaibatsu and the group was nearly an official intelligence service of the Ministry of War. Hundreds of agents were taught Russian and dispatched into Siberia and Manchuria, some roaming as far as Lake Baikal. The military intelligence the Kokuryukai gathered was central to the victory of Japan over the Tsar's forces during the Russo-Japanese War.

With Russia vanquished in 1905, Kokuryukai took the mantle bestowed upon it by Genyosha and broadened their goals to encompass a "Greater East Asia" over which Japan would rule supreme. This was the period when Toyama offered support to Asian nationalists, and Kokuryukai followed suit by working towards commercial exploitation of Asia, particularly in Manchuria. While developing business interests of the Japanese companies they worked for, Kokuryukai agents set up deeper connections with the anti-Manchu triads and Chinese nationalists like Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. These new ties mildly alienated Kokuryukai from the Japanese government, which was then pursuing more cautious goals on the mainland. By the end of World War I, the expansionist movement in Japan had waned, and with it Kokuryukai.

All this changed by the early 1930s. Many Japanese came to see military conquest as a solution to economic depression, and those in power feared the stirrings of political revolution through dissident groups. Japan in the 1930s was marked by a number of assassinations and attempted coups, each of which bore some influence of Kokuryukai. While fostering unrest, the society used the "National Reconstruction" movement to turn its bosses, blackmailers, thugs, and assassins on the democratic, syndicalist, communist, and socialist movements within Japan that they believed hindered their imperial goals. This political terrorism erupted with the Mukden Incident of 1931, where bomb scare on the South Manchurian Rail provided the pretext for the Kwantung Army (Japanese soldiers occupying that peninsula) to take over all of Manchuria. The government in Tokyo protested, and several officials, including the prime minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi, were assasinated by Kokuryukai-sponsored terrorists.

The violence culminated in a military revolt in 1936, and though it was suppressed, those who remained in power in Japan were the mid- to high-ranking military officers that shared the same zeal for expansionism that had drove the young officers to revolt. In Kokuryukai itself, Uchida continued to lead the society till his death in 1937, though his involvement was limited after he was stuck ill in 1932. Uchida's successor was Kuzuo Yoshihisa, who lead Kokuryukai till the end of the war, by which time it was estimated to include over ten thousand members (this figure may have been inflated to include subsidiary groups which were only loosely-affiliated with Kokuryukai). During this period, both Uchida and Kuzuo headed a number of various groups related to the Kokuryukai, and merged the society with similar organizations to exploit the ultranationalist movement sweeping through Japan, and control the younger members from rash action. By the late 1930s, the Diet and the Prime Minister were simply figureheads while the military governed the country, and most senior politicians had some connection with Kokuryukai or affiliated groups. The ultranationalism of Kokuryukai had become entrenched in the political structure, who then embedded that philosophy in Japanese society through propaganda and "thought police."

Outside of politics, Kokuryukai continued to actively cooperate with the Japanese government in the field of espionage. An associate of Kokuryukai, Kenji Doihara, was the spymaster of the Special Service Organ in Manchuria and Mongolia, a network of several thousand agents (including many White Russians who had fled the Bolshevik revolution) using the society's techniques (prostitutes, opium, and assassination). The networks outside China used members under the cover of their own occupations - businessmen, fishermen, archaeologists, students - gathering intelligence for the Army and the Foreign Ministry. Kokuryukai members infilitrated the huge communities of Japanese nationals in the Middle East, the United States, the Caribbean, and South America. The society's ties with the underworld remained strong, and by now, Kokuryukai was enjoying significant funds and influence from their monopoly on the Chinese opium trade. Brothels and gambling houses remained a popular method of gathering intelligence, with Kokuryukai members setting up clubs as far as San Francisco and Tijuana.

Japan's alliance with Germany and Italy through the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 was cemented with the Tripartite Pact in September 1940. While the Abwehr and Japanese intelligence contributed considerably to each others operations, Kokuryukai had little connection with the Axis powers. Indeed, Kokuryukai even attempted anti-Italian operations in Ethopia in the mid-1930s.

By the time war began, Kokuryukai had faded into the background. While many of Japan's spies had been recruited through the society, Kokuryukai was no longer the clearinghouse through which intelligence flowed to the Army and the Foreign Ministry. The death of Uchida in 1937 and of Toyama in 1944 ended the society's period of significant influence, and, following Japan's surrender, Kokuryukai was abolished. Nevertheless, Kokuryukai held the interest of Western intelligence since the 1930s, and organizations like the Office of Naval Intelligence saw the society as both the source of Japan's expansionist policy and their much-feared spy network abroad. The misinterpreted name of the "Black Dragon Society" was a shadowy cabal to the West, who believed the society's spies had a hand everywhere, especially within populations of Japanese nationals and immigrants in their own countries. During the war, the Black Dragon Society was even reputed to have power in Japanese internment camps in the United States, where they were said to intimidate fellow Japanese-Americans. Much of this reputation was based on racism and paranoia, but Kokuryukai had laid the basis for Japan's overseas intelligence network during the Second World War. And within the Kokuryukai, there existed a conspiracy much darker than anything before feared, an inner circle known as the Order of the Green Dragons.

The Order of the Green Dragons

Brown, Delmer M. Nationalism in Japan. University of California Press.
Norman, E. Herbert. "The Genyosha: A Study in the Origins of Japanese Nationalism," Pacific Affairs, XVII (September, 1944), 261-284.
Storry, Richard. The Double Patriots. ISBN 0-8371-6643-8

Written by Gil Trevizo with material by Dave Kish.

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