Hiroo Onoda

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Hiroo Onoda
Onoda, c. 1944
Born(1922-03-19)19 March 1922
Kainan, Wakayama, Empire of Japan
Died16 January 2014(2014-01-16) (aged 91)
Tokyo, Japan
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Service/branch Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service1942–1945(1974)
RankSecond Lieutenant
Battles/warsWorld War II
Other workCattle farmer
Entrepreneur (Education)

Hirō "Hiroo" Onoda (小野田 寛郎, Onoda Hirō, 19 March 1922 – 16 January 2014) was an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II and was a Japanese holdout who did not surrender at war's end in August 1945. After the war ended Onoda spent 29 years holding out in the Philippines until his former commander traveled from Japan to formally relieve him from duty by order of Emperor Shōwa in 1974.[1][2] He held the rank of second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. He was the penultimate Japanese soldier to surrender, with Teruo Nakamura surrendering later in 1974.

Early life[edit]

Onoda was born on 19 March 1922, in Kamekawa Village, Kaisō District, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. When he was 17 years old, he went to work for the Tajima Yoko trading company in Wuhan, China.[3][4] When he was 18, he was enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry.[3]

Military service[edit]

Hiro Onoda (right) and his younger brother Shigeo Onoda (1944)

Onoda trained as an intelligence officer in the commando class "Futamata" (二俣分校, futamata-bunkō) of the Nakano School. On 26 December 1944, he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines.[5] He was ordered to do all he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor. Onoda's orders also stated that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life.

When he landed on the island, Onoda joined forces with a group of Japanese soldiers who had been sent there previously. The officers in the group outranked Onoda and prevented him from carrying out his assignment, which made it easier for United States and Philippine Commonwealth forces to take the island when they landed on 28 February 1945. Within a short time of the landing, all but Onoda and three other soldiers had either died or surrendered. Onoda, who had been promoted to lieutenant, ordered the men to take to the hills.

Time in hiding[edit]

Hiroo Onoda (R) offered his military sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos (L) on the day of his surrender, March 11, 1974

Onoda continued his campaign as a Japanese holdout, initially living in the mountains with three fellow soldiers (Private Yūichi Akatsu, Corporal Shōichi Shimada and Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka).[6] During his stay, Onoda and his companions carried out guerrilla activities and engaged in several shootouts with the police.[7]

The first time they saw a leaflet announcing that Japan had surrendered was in October 1945; another cell had killed a cow and found a leaflet left behind by islanders which read: "The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!"[8] However, they distrusted the leaflet. They concluded that the leaflet was Allied propaganda, and also believed that they would not have been fired on if the war had indeed been over. Toward the end of 1945, leaflets were dropped by air with a surrender order printed on them from General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army. They had been in hiding for over a year, and this leaflet was the only evidence they had the war was over. Onoda's group studied the leaflet closely to determine whether it was genuine, and decided it was not.[1]

One of the four, Yuichi Akatsu walked away from the others in September 1949 and surrendered to Filipino forces in 1950 after six months on his own. This seemed like a security problem to the others and they became even more cautious. In 1952 letters and family pictures were dropped from aircraft urging them to surrender, but the three soldiers concluded that this was a trick. Shimada was shot in the leg during a shoot-out with local fishermen in June 1953, after which Onoda nursed him back to health. On 7 May 1954, Shimada was killed by a shot fired by a search party looking for the men. Kozuka was killed by two shots fired by local police on 19 October 1972,[7] when he and Onoda, as part of their guerrilla activities, were burning rice that had been collected by farmers. Onoda was now alone.

On 20 February 1974, Onoda met a Japanese man, Norio Suzuki, who was traveling around the world, looking for "Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order".[4] Suzuki found Onoda after four days of searching. Onoda described this moment in a 2010 interview: "This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier. Suzuki asked me why I would not come out ..."[1] Onoda and Suzuki became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer. Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter, and the Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. Taniguchi flew to Lubang, and on 9 March 1974, he finally met with Onoda and fulfilled a promise he had made back in 1944: "Whatever happens, we'll come back for you". Taniguchi then issued Onoda the following orders:

  1. In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
  2. In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff's Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
  3. Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives.
— Hiroo Onoda, Onoda 1999, pp. 13–14

Onoda was thus properly relieved of duty, and he surrendered. He turned over his sword, his functioning Arisaka Type 99 rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades, as well as the dagger his mother had given him in 1944 to kill himself with if he was captured.[9] Only Private Teruo Nakamura, arrested on 18 December 1974 in Indonesia, held out for longer.

Although he had killed people and engaged in shootouts with the police, the circumstances (namely, that he believed that the war was still ongoing) were taken into consideration, and Onoda received a pardon from President Ferdinand Marcos.[10]

Later life[edit]

Onoda was so popular following his return to Japan that some Japanese urged him to run for the Diet (Japan's bicameral legislature). He also released an autobiography, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, shortly after his return, detailing his life as a guerrilla fighter in a war that was long over. A Philippine documentary interviewed people who lived on Lubang Island during Onoda's stay, revealing that Onoda had killed several people, which he had not mentioned in his autobiography.[11] The news media reported on this and other misgivings, but at the same time welcomed his return home. The Japanese government offered him a large sum of money in back pay, which he refused. When money was pressed on him by well-wishers, he donated it to Yasukuni Shrine.

Onoda was reportedly unhappy being the subject of so much attention and troubled by what he saw as the withering of traditional Japanese values. In April 1975, he followed the example of his elder brother Tadao and left Japan for Brazil, where he raised cattle. He married in 1976 and assumed a leading role in Colônia Jamic (Jamic Colony), the Japanese community in Terenos, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. After reading about a Japanese teenager who had murdered his parents in 1980, Onoda returned to Japan in 1984 and established the Onoda Shizen Juku ("Onoda Nature School") educational camp for young people, held at various locations in Japan.[12]

Onoda revisited Lubang Island in 1996, donating US$10,000 for the local school on Lubang. His wife, Machie Onoda, became the head of the conservative Japan Women's Association in 2006.[13] He used to spend three months of the year in Brazil. Onoda was awarded the Merit medal of Santos-Dumont by the Brazilian Air Force on 6 December 2004.[14] On 21 February 2010, the Legislative Assembly of Mato Grosso do Sul awarded him the title of "Cidadão do (Citizen of) Mato Grosso do Sul."[15] Onoda was affiliated to the openly revisionist organization Nippon Kaigi, which advocates a restoration of the administrative power of the monarchy and militarism in Japan.[16]


Onoda died of heart failure[17] on 16 January 2014, at St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo, due to complications from pneumonia.[18] Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga commented on his death: "I vividly remember that I was reassured of the end of the war when Mr Onoda returned to Japan" and also praised his will to survive.[17]



  • わがルバン島の30年戦争 [30 Years War on the Island of Lubang]. Tokyo: 講談社 [Tokyo Kōdansha], 1974. OCLC 976947108. 248 pages.
  • No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War. Translated by Charles S. Terry. New York: Dell Publishing, 1974. ISBN 978-1-55750-663-4, OCLC 6547712. 251 pages.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Willacy, M. (2010): Japanese holdouts fought for decades after WWII ABC Lateline (12 November 2010). Retrieved on 16 September 2011.
  2. ^ Powers, D. (2011): Japan: No Surrender in World War Two BBC History (17 February 2011). Retrieved on 16 September 2011.
  3. ^ a b Brown, P. (2010): Hiroo Onoda’s Twenty Nine Year Private War Archived 3 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine Pattaya Daily News (15 June 2010). Retrieved on 16 September 2011.
  4. ^ a b 2nd Lt. Hiroo Onoda (c. 2010). Retrieved on 3 April 2011.
  5. ^ Kawaguchi, J. (2007): Words to live by: Hiroo Onoda The Japan Times (16 January 2007). Retrieved on 16 September 2011.
  6. ^ "Hiroo Onoda - obituary". The Telegraph. 19 January 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  7. ^ a b McFadden, Robert, Hiroo Onoda, whose war lasted decades, dies at 91, New York Times, 18 January 2014, p.18
  8. ^ Onoda 1999, p. 75.
  9. ^ "Hiroo Onoda: Last man fighting". The Economist. 25 January 2014. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  10. ^ "Japan WW2 soldier who refused to surrender Hiroo Onoda dies". BBC News. 17 January 2014. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  11. ^ "i-Witness – Ang Huling Sundalong Hapon (Part 3 of 4)". Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  12. ^ Mercado, Stephen C. (2003). The Shadow Warriors of Nakano. Brassey's. pp. 246–247. ISBN 1-57488-538-3.
  13. ^ "Wife of 'No Surrender' soldier becomes president of conservative women's group". Japan Probe. 29 November 2006. Archived from the original on 11 July 2009.
  14. ^ "Combatente da II Guerra ganha medalha da FAB" (in Portuguese). Brazilian Air Force Centro de Comunicação Social da Aeronáutica Center for Social Communication of the Air. 8 December 2004. Archived from the original on 11 March 2005. Retrieved 7 May 2009.
  15. ^ "Herói japonês que mora em Terenos recebe homenagem" (in Portuguese). A Crítica. 21 February 2010.
  16. ^ Nippon Kaigi website
  17. ^ a b McCurry, Justin (17 January 2014). "Hiroo Onoda: Japanese soldier who took three decades to surrender, dies". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  18. ^ Mullen, Jethro and Yoko Wakatsuk (17 January 2014). "Hiroo Onoda, Japanese soldier who long refused to surrender, dies at 91". CNN. Retrieved 17 January 2014.

Works cited[edit]

  • Hiroo Onoda (1999). No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War. Translated by Terry, Charles S. New York: Dell. ISBN 978-1-55750-663-4.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]