When World War II ended with Japan’s surrender in August of 1945, millions of Japanese military personnel were spread across vast swathes of Japanese-held territory in East Asia and the Pacific. While the majority overcame the shock of defeat and duly obeyed the orders to surrender, broadcast by the Japanese emperor as well as relayed through their chain of command, a minority did not.
Their motives varied. Some had been cut off from communications with their chain of command, and so never received notice that the war was over and that they should surrender to Allied military personnel. Others received the orders to surrender, but did not trust their veracity: so strongly indoctrinated had they been with their military’s bushido-based ethos of fighting unto death and avoiding the ignominy and dishonor of surrender, that it was inconceivable that their leaders had actually gone ahead and accepted the ignominy and dishonor of surrender. That being so, it followed that the orders instructing them to surrender could not have possibly come from their government, but were an enemy trick or ruse of war.
Some were true believers in Japan’s claims that the war was fought to free fellow Asians from European colonialism, and so they stayed behind when their comrades marched off to internment camps and joined forces with nationalist anti-colonial movements such as the Viet Minh. Others had snapped, suffering what would be diagnosed today as post-traumatic stress, and as such were acting irrationally due to mental instability.
And some were simply jerks, who could not swallow their pride and admit that all the wartime suffering and sacrifice had been naught, and face up to the fact that they had been beaten. Whatever their motives, thousands of Japanese failed to surrender after the war had officially ended.
Most holdouts did not hold out for long. Within a few months, most were convinced that the war had ended. So they stacked their arms and turned themselves in to the nearest Allied forces, or if unable to face the humiliation of surrender, committed suicide. Others were cut off from supplies of food and medicine, starved to death or succumbed to illness. Others were tracked down by Allied or native forces and killed.
However, a tiny minority held out for far longer, continuing the war and eluding capture or death for years – in some cases, for decades. What follows are are the remarkable stories of some of them.