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Yamashita’s Gold—Is Fiction More Fun than Fact?

Updated on August 28, 2015
Replica Buddha statue, of a solid gold statue that armed troops under orders of Ferdinand Marcos allegedly stole from Rogelio Roxas.
Replica Buddha statue, of a solid gold statue that armed troops under orders of Ferdinand Marcos allegedly stole from Rogelio Roxas. | Source

Stories Of Yamashita's Gold

Growing up in the mountains of Negros, it was common to hear the older folk telling stories about gold that had been buried by the Japanese during the war. There was always the cousin of somebody’s cousin who had found some of the gold or maybe knew about somebody who had found some buried treasure. More stories than gold, though, because nobody I ever knew had really seen any gold. For the kids of my generation, it was fun to listen to the stories because the older folk like to talk, but in reality, at such a young age, we knew nothing about the war and probably had a better chance of finding the gold than finding Japan on a map.

Gold in Sibonga

I had not thought about those stories for many years, and then while traveling in southern Cebu, I serendipitously came across two locals on separate occasions who claimed to be experts on the subject of Yamashita’s gold. I met the first expert while staying in Sibonga. He was a man of few teeth, but many ideas on how to get rich. His ideas ranged from selling snake venom to finding Yamashita’s treasure. The latter caught my attention. “I am going to tell you the truth, they buried the gold in different places and there is still some gold buried here in Sibonga under the old stone pier. It is still there because the new cement pier was built right over the old stone pier.” He lost credibility with his first eight words. Often when people begin with, “I am going to tell you the truth…” the words that follow are not completely true. I asked the man how he knew the gold was there and he replied, “I am sure the gold is buried there. It must be there. I looked everywhere else.”

Even if it was true that some of the gold is still buried under the pier, the chewing-challenged old guy could offer no plausible (or legal) way of getting the gold.

Sumilon Island -- Was there ever gold buried there?
Sumilon Island -- Was there ever gold buried there? | Source

Gold under Sumilon Island

A few days later at the southern tip of Cebu, I met a woman in Santander. Her grandfather was Japanese and had come to Cebu in the 1960s to start a dive shop. He had told her the story she told me:

“The stories about the gold are real. I know because my grandfather told me stories about Yamashita’s gold. My grandfather wasn’t in the war, but he had a scuba diving business and there were always Japanese coming to his shop asking about doing cave dives around Cebu. They wanted to go to specific places because they were looking for gold. Some even had treasure maps. The maps were real because they were drawn by soldiers that had made it back to Japan alive after the war.

“A group of shady men, like yakuza, came to his dive shop when it first opened. Back then, there weren’t any Japanese divers in Cebu so they had to come to my grandfather for help. At first, they said they were planning to open a hotel on Sumilon Island and they wanted my grandfather to help with a dive shop. He went there with them to explore dive sites, but they had their own plans. He saw a map, but never thought much about it.

“Then the group just left. But, they came back months later with government people and official papers. They asked my grandfather to help them translate documents and to plan some more cave dives. One night when they were drinking, one man told my grandfather that they were looking for Yamashita’s gold and they knew where it was. The others got angry about what the man had said. My grandfather told me he never saw that man again.

“My grandfather helped them do the cave dives around the island. But after, they just packed up and left again. He said they came a third time with all kinds of construction equipment and they started building a resort. For months on Sumilon Island, they were working, but the resort never got built, at least not then. My grandfather saw that they had brought hundreds of refrigerators for the resort, but the resort was only supposed to have forty rooms. During that time, President Marcos sent troops to Sumilon Island to keep it all secret, because he got a share of the gold.

“My grandfather told me the construction just stopped one day and they all left. There was no resort, but there were many holes leading to a maze of limestone caverns. They left almost all the materials they brought for the resort like bulldozers and stacks of wood. They left everything except the refrigerators. Only twenty refrigerators were left there. They took the rest because they used them to smuggle the gold back to Japan. They put the gold in the fridges and used Cojuangco’s shipping lines to get it through customs in Japan. That was part Cojuangco’s fortune. He got a share of the gold, too. The rest of the gold went to Shin Kanemaru. He was a right wing politician that my grandfather disliked very much”

A US MP returns Tomoyuki Yamashita, the "Tiger of Malayasia" to his cage after a day in court while on trial for war crimes.
A US MP returns Tomoyuki Yamashita, the "Tiger of Malayasia" to his cage after a day in court while on trial for war crimes. | Source

Weave of Fact and Fiction

General Tomoyuki Yamashita

(1885 -1946)

Known as the “Tiger of Malaysia”, Yamashita was a general in the Japanese Imperial Army. On the same day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, Lieutenant-General Yamashita launched an offensive to take control of the Malay Peninsula, which culminated with the fall of Singapore and the largest surrender of British military in history. After a promotion to general in 1943, he was sent to the Philippines in October 1944. Ten days after his arrival in the Philippines, MacArthur stayed true to his promise and returned in the historical “Leyte Landing”. The war in the Philippines raged on for several weeks after the surrender of Japan. In September of 1945, Yamashita and his remain troops surrendered. After being found guilty of war crimes during a somewhat controversial trial that lasted six weeks, he was hanged in the Philippines.

Yamashita’s Gold

It was not only gold. It is also known as Yamashita’s treasure. The terms refer to the spoils of war from looting and plundering by the Japanese Imperial Army as they pushed through Southeast Asian and China. Did it ever exist? It is more difficult to believe that there was no looting than to believe there was looting. Was the gold melted down and stored in gold bars? Were the gold and other valuables under Yamashita’s control? Were they calculatedly buried and hidden throughout the Philippine Islands? The only sure answer is that Yamashita never took them with him. However, if treasures did exist, what happened to them?

Did Marcos Get A Share of the Gold?

Most Filipinos that have heard of Yamashita’s gold will say that Marcos got his share. His wife Imelda even said so in 1992. She even said that her husband Ferdinand kept the gold secret because there was so much gold “that it would be embarrassing”. She claimed her husband hid the gold in the walls of their home, but declined to explain where the remaining gold was.

Did Cojuangco Shipping Lines Transport Yamashita’s Gold?

The Cojuangco Clan has been one of the richest and most influential families in the Philippines since the early 20th century. Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. is a businessman and in 1974 invested in a joint venture to establish Filsov shipping. According to a 1991 newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times, “Under his friend and mentor, Ferdinand E. Marcos, Cojuangco amassed $1.5 billion in corporate assets through illegal monopolies and massive fraud.” The article also says, “And although it was never proved, President Corazon Aquino reportedly suspected her long-estranged cousin of a role in the 1983 assassination of her husband, Benigno S. Aquino Jr.”

Nothing about a connection to Yamashita’s gold, but enough of a coincidence to lend a possibility of truth to the Santander woman’s story.

Did Shin Kanemaru Get a Share of Yamashita’s Gold?

Shin Kanemaru (1914 -1996) was a very right-of-center political leader for the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party. In 1993, authorities were investigating Kanemaru on tax evasion and corruption charges when they found hundreds of gold bars, cash and securities with a total value of about $50 million.

Although speculation is that the money came from campaign donations, it is not completely clear.

Haruki Murakami, the award-winning Japanese novelist, created a character for one of his novels that seems to mirror Kanemaru. In A Wild Sheep Chase, the “Boss” (like Kanemaru) was a soldier in Manchuria during WWII. The Boss plunders his way through China and amasses “an inexhaustible stash of gold and silver.” He makes it back to Japan before the Soviet invasion of China. He then uses his war booty to fund a political party and buy up advertising companies so he can monopolize the advertising industry. Any connection to Yamashita’s Gold?

Other Stories

Yes, there are more stories than gold probably; some complementary and some contradictory. That is how fact and fiction weave together. The story of the Roxas Buddha is well known and one that most people want to believe is proof the legends of Yamashita’s Gold are true.

Truth is like treasure, we sometimes find it serendipitously!!!

The Roxas Buddha Story


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    • JasmenVilando profile imageAUTHOR

      Jasmen Vilando 

      3 years ago from Yokohama

      Yes, there are so many stories of buried treasure in my country. Too many people dream of getting rich quick, when the people in power have already got there first.

    • Adrien Richards profile image


      3 years ago

      very detail and beautifully written post. I heard this similar in other parts of the Philippines too --the Japanese buried their treasures.


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