3 unbelievable Japanese holdout stories you should know about

Patricia Hului

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Victory belongs to the most persevering”.

This is not necessarily works every time especially when comes to Japanese holdouts.

In Japanese, they called them ‘Zanryu nipponhei’ or the remaining Japanese soldier.

They were the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II (WWII) who continued to fight in the war even after the surrender of Japan in August 1945.

There were two main reasons why these men refused to surrender.

It was either they doubted the truthfulness of the formal surrender or they did not know that the war had ended because communications had been cut off by Allied forces.

Here are three unbelievable Japanese holdout stories you should know about:

1.The Japanese holdout who terrorised the Filipino farmers during his hiding

Hiroo Onada was only 18 years old when he was enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry.

He was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines on a mission to do all he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island.

His orders included destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor as well as not to surrender under any circumstances.

Onada took the order literally. He did not surrender even when the Japanese emperor had already announced their surrender.

He continued his campaign living in the mountains of Lubang island with three fellow soldiers; Private Yuichi Akatsu, Corporal Shoichi Shimada and Private First Class Kinshici Kozuka.

At this time, Onada and his fellow comrades continued to carry out guerrilla activities and engaged in shootouts with the local police.

In October 1945, they received a leaflet announcing that Japanese had surrendered.

They concluded it was Allied propaganda.

Subsequently, Akatsu walked away from others and surrendered to Philippine forces in 1950.

Then, Shinada was killed by a search party looking for the men on May 7, 1954.

Years later on Oct 19, 1972, Kozuka was killed by local police when he and Onada were carrying out their guerrilla activities.

In the end, the Japanese government had to locate Onada’s commanding officer Major Yoshimi Taniguchi.

The major had long surrendered and working as a bookseller.

Finally on Mar 9, 1974, Taniguchi went to Lubang Island to meet with Onada and relieve him from his duty.

After spending 29 years in hiding, Onada finally returned to Japan.

Onada passed away on Jan 16, 2014 due to heart failure.

Throughout his lifetime, Onada never apologised for killing about 30 Filipino civilians and stealing their food and burning their crops.

Hiroo Onoda (right) offers his military sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos (left) on the day of his surrender, 11 March 1974. Credit: Public Domain.

2.The Japanese holdout who was not a Japanese, ethnically.

During WWII, thousands of Formosan (Taiwanese) and Korean men were enlisted into Imperial Japanese Army because their countries were Japanese colonies.

They were forced to take up Japanese names and served under Japanese flag during the war.

One of them was Teruo Nakamura (also known as Attun Palalin and Suniuo). He was an Amis, one of the sixteen officially recognised groups of Taiwanese aboriginal groups.

After he was enlisted into the Imperial Japanese Army, Nakamura was sent to Morotai Island in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

Not long after that, the Allies forces took over the island in Sept 1944 and the Japanese Army allegedly declared Nakamura dead on November 1944.

However, he continued to live on the island. In mid 1974, a pilot spotted Nakamura’s hut.

A few months later, the Japanese Embassy requested help from the Indonesian government to search for Nakamura.

Indonesian soldiers found him on Dec 18, 1974. Instead of returning to Japan, he decided to be repatriated straight to Taiwan.

The Taiwanese media referred to him as Lee Kuang Hui, a Chinese name he found out after his return.

Unlike Onada who received his pension after his repatriation, Nakamura was not entitled to any because he was not a Japanese in ethnicity or nationality.

The public and the Taiwanese government were not happy and they managed to raise a fund for him.

According to Taipei Times, his return to Taiwan was bittersweet.

The report stated, “His parents were dead, and only two siblings survived – all going by Chinese names now. Suniuo’s wife’s new husband (of more than 10 years) was originally willing to move out and let the couple reunite, but Suniuo decided not to disturb their life and bought an apartment nearby.”

Just four years after his return, Teruo Nakamura died of lung cancer.

Today, he is the last known Japanese holdout to surrender after the end of WWII.

3.The Japanese holdout who became a jungle survival expert

Before Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi became a Japanese soldier, he was an apprentice tailor.

He arrived on Guam in February 1943 as part of the 38th Regiment.

When the American forces captured the island in the 1944 Battle of Guam, Yokoi was forced into hiding along with nine other Japanese soldiers.

Seven of the original ten eventually moved elsewhere leaving Yokoi and two others in the region.

The three men separated but visited each other until 1964 when the other two died in a flood leaving Yokoi behind.

He survived by hunting primarily at night.

Then in January 1972, two local hunters discovered him in a remote jungle of Guam. Yokoi’s tailoring skills had come in handy over the years, as he was seen wearing a pair of burlap pants and a shirt that he made from tree bark.

A month later after being discovered, he was sent back to Japan, almost 28 years after US forces had regained control of the island in 1944.

He spent his post-war life writing a best-selling book on his experience and became a regular commentator on television programs where he discussed survival skills.

Perhaps due to his experience as a jungle survivor in Guam, Yokoi became an advocate of austere living after his repatriation.

He passed away in 1997 at the age of 82 and was buried under a gravestone that had been commissioned by his mother in 1955 after Yokoi had been officially declared dead.