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Who are the Japanese soldiers who kept fighting even after the World War 2?

Updated on July 1, 2017

Many Japanese soldiers went to different parts of Asia during the World War 2 to drive colonial powers out of Asia under the command of Emperor Hirohito. They fought ferociously for Japan. However, the war ended in 1945 with Japan surrendering to the Allied Powers. The infamous Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic bombing brought Japanese aggression in the war to a complete halt. This resulted in a lot of confusion among some of its overseas soldiers. Some highly patriotic Japanese soldiers could not digest the fact that Japan had to surrender. Some soldiers did not have proper information as the communication lines were cut between the high command and them. Whatever the reasons might be, they decided to keep fighting the war for their beloved country.

1. Holdouts

The soldiers who kept fighting even after the war ended are referred to as 'Zanryu Nipponhei' in Japanese. These people are nothing but holdouts or war-draggers. Be it jungles of Malaysia or remote islands of the Pacific, these holdouts continued to fight with weaponry, often volunteering for other wars such as the First Indochina War. Some of them surrendered after they found out that the war ended. Some tried to show their ardent loyalty to their Emperor who was residing in a Japan that became different within a few decades compared to that of the times of the World War 2.

Hiroo Onoda
Hiroo Onoda | Source

2. Famous Soldiers

There are many famous holdouts who have received praise from all around the world for their service. One of them is Hiroo Onoda who retired from service only in 1974 after fighting in Philippines for 29 years as a guerrilla. In the 50s, tens of hideouts were discovered in Philippines and Indonesia in places such as the Lubang Island, Morotai, Mindoro, Jayapura etc. On Guam, people like Sergeant Masashi Ito and Minagawa surrendered voluntarily in 1960. Some of the famous hideouts found in Malaysia are Shigeyuki Hashimoto and Kiyoaki Tanaka who surrendered much later in 1990. They worked for the Communist Party of Malaysia (CPM) which was a revolutionary force adamant about stopping the British from colonizing Malaysia again. Majors like Takuo Ishii fought as a volunteer in Viet Minh against the French troops and died in 1950. Despite there was an anti-Japanese feeling in many countries of South East Asia due to Imperial Japan`s illegal occupation, some of the Japanese holdouts earned respect from the locals after the surrender of Japan for their voluntary service in their national struggles especially in Vietnam and Indonesia.

Japanese soldiers in Malaya
Japanese soldiers in Malaya | Source

3. Current Existence

It is believed that there might be a few holdouts still resisting in remote places of Asia. However, there has not been any reports of violence over two decades. It is said that the existing holdouts might be too old to fight and must have given up arms. Sometimes, rumors about their existence come and catch news, but these are just started by locals to get attention. There were also soldiers from Taiwan and other places who joined the Imperial Forces of Japan during the second world war who spoke neither Japanese nor any South East Asian language. Most of the incognito holdouts must have married the locals in the South East Asia and living a different life. There are several movies and video games made on holdouts in Japan.

National Hero Shoichi Yokoi
National Hero Shoichi Yokoi | Source

Although the young generation in Japan may believe these holdouts to be loyal pawns in the hands of the previous emperor, there has been some praise too due to their never-lasting stern endeavors for whatever the cause might be. They believed in something and continued sacrificing their lives for it. When Japan first discovered these old unstoppable war heroes, it created a lot of buzz declaring some of them as National Heroes. One such example is that of Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi who fought on Guam until early 70s. He hid in a cave for several years without realizing the war is over. As many holdouts began coming out later, a sense of embarrassment and downplaying started as the people felt that we live in a totally different era, and there is a need to move on while congratulating them for their extraordinary services.


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