Japanese holdouts (残留日本兵 Zanryū nipponhei, "remaining Japanese soldiers") or stragglers were Japanese soldiers in the Pacific Theatre who, after the August 1945 surrender of Japan ending World War II, either adamantly doubted the veracity of the formal surrender due to dogmatic militaristic principles, or simply were not aware of it because communications had been cut off by Allied advances.
Some continued to fight the enemy forces, and later local police, for years after the war was over. Others volunteered with local independence movements such as during the First Indochina War and Indonesian National Revolution.
Intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda, who was relieved of duty by his former commanding officer on Lubang Island in the Philippines in March 1974, and Teruo Nakamura, who was stationed on Morotai Island in Indonesia and surrendered in December 1974, were the last confirmed holdouts, though rumors persisted of others.
- Captain Sakae Ōba, who led his company of 46 men in guerrilla actions against US troops following the Battle of Saipan, did not surrender until December 1, 1945, three months after the war ended.
- In China, Shanxi warlord Yan Xishan was notable for his ability to recruit thousands of Japanese soldiers stationed in northwest Shanxi in 1945, including their commanding officers, into his army. He was known to have successfully used a variety of tactics to achieve these defections: flattery, face-saving gestures, appeals to idealism and genuine expressions of mutual interest. In cases where these were not completely successful, he sometimes resorted to "bribes and women". His tactics in both convincing the Japanese to stay and in preventing them from leaving were highly successful, as the efforts of the Japanese were instrumental in keeping the area surrounding Taiyuan free from Communist control for the four years before the Communists won the Chinese Civil War.
- On January 1, 1946, 20 Japanese Army personnel who had been hiding in a tunnel at Corregidor Island surrendered to a US serviceman.
- Major Sei Igawa (井川省) volunteered as a Viet Minh staff officer and commander. Igawa was killed in a battle with French troops in 1946.
- Navy Lieutenant Hideo Horiuchi (堀内秀雄) volunteered as an Indonesian volunteer Army Lieutenant Colonel. Horiuchi was arrested by Dutch troops on August 13, 1946, while his wounds were being treated in a village after the battle with Dutch troops.
- Lieutenant Ei Yamaguchi and his 33 soldiers emerged on Peleliu in late March 1947, attacking the U.S. Marine Corps detachment stationed on the island. 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 May 12, 1948, the AP reported that two Japanese soldiers surrendered to civilian policemen in Guam.
- On January 6, 1949, Yamakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki, two IJN machine gunners, surrendered on Iwo Jima.
- Private 1st Class Yūichi Akatsu continued to fight on Lubang Island from 1944 until surrendering in the Philippine village of Looc in March 1950.
- Major Takuo Ishii (石井卓雄) continued to fight as a Viet Minh adviser, staff officer, and commander. He was killed in a battle with French troops on May 20, 1950.
- The Associated Press reported on June 27, 1951, 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 U.S. 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. The Japanese occupation of the island inspired the 1953 film Anatahan and the 1998 novel Cage on the Sea.
- Corporal Shōichi Shimada (島田庄一) continued to fight on Lubang until he was killed in a clash with Filipino soldiers in May 1954.
- Lieutenant Kikuo Tanimoto (谷本喜久男) volunteered as a Viet Minh adviser and commander. Tanimoto returned to Japan in 1954, after Vietnamese Independence and division.
- Seaman Noburo Kinoshita, after his November 1955 capture from the Luzon jungle, hanged himself rather than "return to Japan in defeat".
- In 1955, four Japanese airmen surrendered at Hollandia (Dutch New Guinea): Simada Kakuo, Simokubo Kumao, Odjima Mamoru and Jaegasi 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 Sigheichi Yamamoto and the Corporals Unitaro Ishii, Masaji Izumida and Juhie Nakano.
- Private Bunzō Minagawa held out from 1944 until May 1960 on Guam.
- Sergeant Masashi Itō, Minagawa's superior, surrendered days later, May 23, 1960, on Guam.
- Corporal Shoichi Yokoi, who served under Itō, was captured on Guam in January 1972.
- Private 1st Class Kinshichi Kozuka held out with Lt. Onoda for 28 years until he was killed in a shootout with Philippine police in October 1972.
- Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, who held out from December 1944 until March 1974 on Lubang Island in the Philippines with Akatsu, Shimada and Kozuka, was relieved of duty by his former commanding officer in March 1974.
- Private Teruo Nakamura, a Taiwan-born soldier (Amis: Attun Palalin), was discovered by the Indonesian Air Force on Morotai, and surrendered to a search patrol on December 18, 1974. Nakamura, who spoke neither Japanese nor Chinese, was the last confirmed holdout. He was discovered 29 years, 3 months, and 16 days after the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed.
- The Asahi Shimbun reported in January 1980 that Captain Fumio Nakaharu (中晴文夫) still held out at Mount Halcon in the Philippines. A search team headed by his former comrade-in-arms Isao Miyazawa (宮沢功) believed it had found his hut. Miyazawa had been looking for Nakahara for many years. However, no evidence that Nakahara lived as late as 1980 has been documented.
- 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, and said searches had been conducted several times over the decades, but said the information was too scant to take any further action.
- In January 1990, Shigeyuki Hashimoto and Kiyoaki Tanaka returned to Japan from Malaysia. After the Japanese surrender, they joined the Malayan Communist Party's guerrilla forces to continue fighting against the British during the Emergency, only returning after the CPM laid down its arms and signed a peace treaty.
Since the 1990s a number of holdouts have been allegedly spotted. However no proof of their existence has been found and some investigators believe these may be stories invented by local residents to attract Japanese tourists.
In popular culture
- Japanese holdout soldiers have been portrayed in a number of films, including Don't Give Up the Ship (1959), The Last Flight of Noah's Ark (1980), Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro (1981), and American Ninja (1985).
- In the season 6 premiere of the televison show Archer, the titular character finds a Japanese holdout soldier in the jungles of Borneo.
- Cursed soldiers
- Forest Brothers
- Hermann Detzner
- Ishinosuke Uwano
- Kalibata Heroes Cemetery
- Operation Haudegen
- Volunteer Fighting Corps
- Gillin and Etter 500
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