Japanese holdouts (Japanese: 残留日本兵, romanised: Zanryū nipponhei, lit. ’remaining Japanese soldiers’) were soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy during the Pacific Theatre of World War II who continued fighting after the surrender of Japan at the end of the war. Japanese holdouts either doubted the veracity of the formal surrender, were not aware that the war had ended because communications had been cut off by Allied advances, or were bound by honour to never surrender.
After Japan officially surrendered at the end of World War II, Japanese holdouts in Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands that had been part of the Japanese Empire continued to fight local police, government forces, and Allied troops stationed to assist the newly formed governments. Many holdouts were discovered in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the Pacific over the following decades, with the last verified holdout, Private Teruo Nakamura, surrendering on the island of Morotai in 1974. Newspapers throughout East Asia and the Pacific reported more holdouts and searches for them were conducted until 2005, but the evidence was too scant, and no further holdouts were confirmed.
Some Japanese soldiers acknowledged Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II but were reluctant to demobilise and wished to continue armed combat for ideological reasons. Many fought in the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and local independence movements in Southeast Asia such as the First Indochina War and the Indonesian National Revolution, and these Japanese soldiers are not usually considered holdouts.
|Name||Date Found||Duration Since End of WWII||Location||Outline|
|Yamakage Kufuku||06 January 1949||3 years, 130 days||Iwo Jima||1. Yamakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki, two Imperial Japanese Navy machine gunners, surrendered on Iwo Jima.|
2. While the original news article did not correctly report their names, their correct names became known when they co-authored a book in 1968 of their experiences under the names Rikio Matsudo (松戸利喜夫) and Kōfuku Yamakage (山蔭光福).
|Matsudo Linsoki||06 January 1949||3 years, 130 days||Iwo Jima||As above|
|Yuichi Akatsu||March 1950||4 years, 210 days||Lubang, Philippines||Private 1st Class Yūichi Akatsu continued to fight on Lubang Island in the Philippines from 1944 until surrendering in the village of Looc in March 1950.|
|Murata Susumu||1953||8 years, 120 days||Tinian, Mariana Islands||Murata Susumu, the last holdout on Tinian, was captured in 1953.|
|Shoichi Shimada||May 1954||8 years, 271 days||Luban, Philippines||Corporal Shōichi Shimada (島田庄一), who was holding out with Lieutenant Onoda, continued to fight on Lubang until he was killed in a clash with Filipino soldiers in May 1954.|
|Noboru Kinoshita||November 1955||10 years, 89 days||Luzon, Philippines||In November 1955, Seaman Noboru Kinoshita was captured in the Luzon jungle, but shortly afterwards committed suicide by hanging himself rather than “return to Japan in defeat”.|
|Bunzo Minagawa||May 1960||14 years, 261 days||Guam||Private Bunzō Minagawa held out from 1944 until May 1960 on Guam.|
|Masashi Ito||23 May 1960||14 years, 264 days||Guam||Sergeant Masashi Itō, Minagawa’s superior, surrendered days later, 23 May 1960, on Guam.|
|Shoichi Yokoi||January 1972||26 years, 151 days||Guam||In January 1972, Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, who served under Masashi Itō, was captured on Guam.|
|Kinshichi Kozuka||October 1972||27 years, 59 days||Philippines||In October 1972, Private 1st Class Kinshichi Kozuka, who had held out with Lieutenant Onoda for 28 years, was killed in a shootout with Philippine police.|
|Hiroo Onoda||March 1974||28 years, 210 days||Lubang, Philippines||1. In March 1974, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda surrendered on Lubang after holding out on the island from December 1944 with Akatsu, Shimada and Kozuka.|
2. Onoda refused to surrender until he was relieved of duty by his former commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who was flown to Lubang to formally relieve Onoda.
|Teruo Nakamura||18 December 1974||29 years, 107 days||Morotai, Indonesia||1. Private Teruo Nakamura, an Amis aborigine from Taiwan and member of the Takasago volunteer (Amis: Attun Palalin), was discovered by the Indonesian Air Force on Morotai, and surrendered to a search patrol on 18 December 1974.|
2. Nakamura, who spoke neither Japanese nor Chinese, was the last confirmed holdout.
|Fumio Nakahara||January 1980||Not Confirmed||Mount Halcon, Philippines||1. The Asahi Shimbun reported in January 1980 that Captain Fumio Nakahara (中晴文夫) was still holding out on Mount Halcon in the Philippines.|
2. A search team headed by his former comrade-in-arms Isao Miyazawa (宮沢功) believed they had found his hut.
3. Miyazawa had been looking for Nakahara for many years.
4. However, no evidence that Nakahara was still alive at the time has been found.
- Captain Sakae Ōba, who led his company of 46 men in guerrilla actions against US troops following the Battle of Saipan, surrendered on 01 December 1945, three months after the war ended.
- On 01 January 1946, 20 Japanese Army personnel who had been hiding in a tunnel at Corregidor Island surrendered to a US serviceman after learning the war had ended from a newspaper found while collecting water.
- Lieutenant Ei Yamaguchi and his 33 soldiers emerged on Peleliu in late March 1947, attacking the US Marine Corps detachment stationed on the island believing the war was still being fought. Reinforcements were sent in, along with a Japanese admiral who was able to convince them the war was over. They finally surrendered in April 1947.
- On 12 May 1948, the Associated Press reported that two unnamed Japanese soldiers had surrendered to civilian policemen in Guam the day before.
- On 27 June 1951, the Associated Press reported that a Japanese petty officer who surrendered on Anatahan Island in the Marianas two weeks before said that there were 18 other holdouts there. A US Navy plane that flew over the island spotted 18 Japanese soldiers on a beach waving white flags. However, the Navy remained cautious, as the Japanese petty officer had warned that the soldiers were “well-armed and that some of them threatened to kill anyone who tried to give himself up. The leaders profess to believe that the war is still on.” The Navy dispatched a seagoing tug, the Cocopa, to the island in hopes of picking up some or all of the soldiers without incident. After a formal surrender ceremony, all the men were retrieved. The Japanese occupation of the island inspired the 1953 film Anatahan and the 1998 novel Cage on the Sea.
- In 1955, four Japanese airmen surrendered at Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea: Shimada Kakuo, Shimokubo Kumao, Ojima Mamoru and Jaegashi Sanzo. They were the survivors of a bigger group.
- In 1956, nine soldiers were discovered and sent home from Morotai.
- In November 1956, four men surrendered on the island of Mindoro: Lieutenant Shigeichi Yamamoto and the Corporals Unitaro Ishii, Masaji Izumida and Juhie Nakano.
Alleged Sightings (1981-2005)
In 1981, a Diet of Japan committee mentioned newspaper reports that holdouts were still living in the forest on Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands. However, it is believed that these were hoaxes made up to lure Japanese tourists to the islands. Searches for holdouts were conducted by the Japanese government on many Pacific islands throughout the 1980s, but the information was too scant to take any further action, and the searches ended by 1989. In 1992, it was reported that a few holdouts still lived on the island of Kolombangara, though subsequent searches were unable to find any evidence. An investigation into similar reports of holdouts on Guadalcanal in 2001 failed to turn up evidence. The last report taken seriously by Japanese officials took place in May 2005, when two elderly men emerged from the jungle in the Philippines claiming to be ex-soldiers. It was initially assumed that the media attention scared the two men off as they disappeared and were not heard from again. Suspicions of a hoax or a kidnapping attempt later mounted as the area where the alleged soldiers emerged from is “notorious” for ransom kidnappings and attacks by Muslim separatists. It is unknown how many or if any legitimate Japanese holdouts remain today. The National WWII Museum reported in 2022 that surviving veterans are “dying quickly”, as those who served are now “in their 90s or older”.
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