General Doihara Kenji was born in Okayama
in 1883, and graduated from the Imperial War College
. Much of Doihara's life and activities before and during the Sino-Japanese War
are legend, and largely unverifiable. It is said, for instance, that he bought his rank in the Army by selling his sister as a concubine
to a prince. So here is what we do
know, from both Japanese and Chinese accounts of the war:
Doihara was sent to China in 1904, after being promoted to the rank of major. He was initially an adjutant to Japan's military attache in Peking, General Honjo Shigeru. Over the next few years, he recruited an extensive spy network all over Northern China, and travelled the country in disguise to observe the weaknesses of each provincial leader.
Doihara eventually proposed that the Japanese take over Manchuria, and that the way to do it was to assassinate local warlord Chang Tso-lin. On October 15, 1916, a Japanese prince was returning from Russia (which at the time was trying to persuade Japan to join the Allied Powers), and arrived in Mukden, where he was met by Chang and several other local bigwigs. They boarded carriages to travel to a nearby restaurant, and along the way, a group of Japanese spies threw a bomb at Chang's carriage. While the bomb killed several of Chang's bodyguards, Chang himself managed to escape on horseback.
Japan did not attack Manchuria right away, but Doihara stayed in the region, earning the nickname "Lawrence of Manchuria" for his command of spoken Mandarin and his tendency to wear Chinese dress. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, he trained thousands of White Russian refugees who had fled into Northern China. Chang was furious at Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek for not attacking the Japanese, and began to arrange a coup against Chiang, which was backed by—you guessed it—Doihara himself. While Chang was plotting against Peking, Doihara continued to build his underworld network, and started to bring in a large Japanese standing army.
On June 4, 1928, Chang abandoned his coup attempt, and returned to Manchuria by train. He was travelling with several of his top officers, as well as a Japanese major. Doihara had explosives experts on call just before Mukden, waiting to blow up the train. Chang caught wind of the plan and placed his youngest wife on another train, which left Peking several minutes before his own. He spilled this information, in true evil genius fashion, to the Japanese officer, and one of the train's stewards proceeded to leap off the train and run to notify Mukden of what was going on. The dynamiters proceeded to blow up the correct train, killing Chang and most of his officers, and somehow sparing the Japanese officer.
Doihara was promoted to colonel after this operation. On September 18, 1931, he set off the first charge of the Second Sino-Japanese War, by blowing up a portion of the Japanese-operated South Manchuria Railway and blaming the action on Chinese terrorists. Soon, the Kantogun ("Kwantung Army"), which he had been building in Manchuria over the past ten years, was busy shelling Chinese barracks all over the region, and within forty-eight hours had driven every man of Chiang Kai-shek's 200,000-man army back into the Han heartland. Doihara was subsequently made mayor of Mukden.
Next, he set out to bring Emperor Henry Pu Yi under the control of the Japanese Empire, and sent one of his top spies, Eastern Jewel, to Tientsin, with orders to seduce Pu Yi into allying with Hirohito. Doihara staged anti-Pu Yi riots in the streets of Tientsin, and then triumphantly supported the emperor in public. Doihara's plot worked: Pu Yi agreed to take the ceremonial throne of Manchukuo, and was whisked off to Mukden in a tiny Japanese launch piloted by Doihara himself.
He continued his espionage operations in Manchukuo, becoming Commander of the Kwantung Army in 1938. Just before Pearl Harbor, he was brought back to Tokyo to become commander of the Imperial Air Force. He held that post until 1944, when he became commander of Japanese forces in Singapore, and oversaw the brutal POW camps there (such as Changi of James Clavell's King Rat).
In 1946, Doihara was called before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. He was convicted on virtually every war crimes charge available at the time, and was sentenced to hanging. He died at Sugamo Prison on December 23, 1948.