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 strong dogmatic or militaristic principles, or simply were not aware of it because communications had been cut off by Allied advances including the United States island hopping campaign.
Some continued to fight the enemy forces, and later local police, for years after the war was over. Some Japanese holdouts volunteered during the First Indochina War and Indonesian War of Independence, to free Asian colonies from Western control despite these having once been colonial ambitions of Imperial Japan during World War II.
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. In addition, Shigeyuki Hashimoto and Kiyoaki Tanaka held out until 1990 by fighting with the Malaysian Communist Party.
- 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.
- 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.
- Yamakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki, two IJN machine gunners, surrendered on Iwo Jima on January 6, 1949.
- 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 a movie.
- Private 1st Class Yūichi Akatsu continued to fight on Lubang Island from 1944 until surrendering in the Philippine village of Looc on March 1950.
- Corporal Shōichi Shimada (島田庄一?) continued to fight on Lubang until he was killed in a clash with Philippine 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 1956, nine soldiers were discovered and sent home from Morotai.
- 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 shoot out 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.
- 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 with the Communist Party of Malaysia guerrilla forces to continue fighting against the British, 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
- One episode of the American TV comedy Ensign O'Toole titled "Operation Holdout" shown on October 28, 1962, the crew finds four stranded soldiers on an isolated island, two American and two Japanese, who think World War II is still underway.
- The 1965 episode "So Sorry, My Island Now" of the American TV comedy Gilligan's Island revolves around a Japanese sailor and his mini-sub; the Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.) remarks how every few years, a Japanese soldier is found who does not know the war is over.
- A 1965 episode of the series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea entitled "And Five of Us are Left..." involves a group of Americans and one Japanese who have been trapped in an undersea cave for twenty-five years. The Japanese refuses to believe the war is over, and hampers rescue efforts.
- One episode of the American TV comedy Northern Exposure features a Japanese businessman who pretends to be a holdout until his business textbooks are discovered.
- The episode "The Last Kamikaze" of The Six Million Dollar Man finds Col. Steve Austin being held prisoner by a Japanese holdout. Steve uses his Polaroid camera to take an instant photo of his captor, in an attempt to prove to him how far the world has moved on, and notes the "Made in Japan" label on the camera.
- The February 1978 episode of Three's Company, "Days of Beer and Weeds," had Jack remarking on the size of Mr. Roper's garden by saying, "There are still pockets of Japanese soldiers in there that don't know the war is over."
- The second episode of 1979 TV series Salvage 1, Shangri-la Lil, centers on the accidental discovery (and reintegration) of a Japanese holdout.
- The 1980 film The Last Flight of Noah's Ark featured two elderly Japanese soldiers who have lived on an uncharted island for 35 years.
- The 1981 film A Friend Is a Treasure, starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, features a Japanese soldier who maintains an entire base to protect a treasure.
- The album Nude (1981) by the British rock band Camel reworked the story, with a twist–after returning to "civilisation", the soldier was so appalled by what society had become that he later disappeared, presumed headed back to the peace and serenity of his island.
- The novel The Seventh Carrier, written by Peter Albano in 1983, describes a situation where a fictitious Yamato-class battleship-turned aircraft carrier named Yonaga — like the real-world carrier Shinano — and its crew were trapped in a secret base in Siberia's Chukchi Peninsula just before Operation Z was to be launched in 1941. Trapped there until 1983, the remaining crew escaped with their ship and launched an attack on the forty-second anniversary of their comrades' attack, causing considerable damage even with antiquated aircraft and bombs against then-modern attack helicopters and jet fighters.
- The film American Ninja (1985) featured John Fujioka, a Japanese holdout and ninja master, who finds and trains Joe Armstrong (played by Michael Dudikoff) to be an American ninja in the Philippines.
- The 1985 music video, written and directed by Thomas Dolby for "Field Work" by Ryuichi Sakamoto, stars Sakamoto as a Japanese holdout. Dolby appears in the video as a punk seeking his autograph.
- The film Savage Beach (1989) featured a Japanese holdout who resided on a remote island which was used to stash gold bars from the Philippines.
- The 1997 novel "Flying to Pieces" by Dean Ing is about a group of aging American WWII pilots who hear about a cache of Japanese warplanes stashed on a remote island in the Philippines and go to investigate, only to discover the planes have been maintained and are operational, having been tended to for over 50 years by a Japanese holdout.
- The 1997 Movie "Wag the dog" actor Dustin Hoffman makes a reference about the war not being over, and cites the Japanese as his example.
- The 1999 children's novel Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo is set in the 1990s and centres on the friendship between a Japanese straggler and a lost British boy.
- In the 2000 film Traffic, Eduardo Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer), a drug dealer under witness protection, compares the DEA agents protecting him to Japanese WWII holdouts. Ruiz tells the agents that, like the Japanese holdouts, they were fighting a war they did not realize had already been lost.
- The action thriller Shima (2007) explores the psychological trauma faced by an officer of the Imperial Army. The film is loosely based on the life on Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda and other Japanese holdouts.
- The fictional Asian island nation of Panau in the video game Just Cause 2 includes an island occupied by Japanese holdouts. These men, several of them centenarians by the time of the game, had been building a superweapon for the Imperial Japanese Army, a giant tower which emits an electromagnetic pulse, disabling any approaching aircraft and disrupting radio communications. Thus, they never got the news that the war was over, and would shoot down any planes that flew over with the now-completed superweapon, scavenging from the wreckage to keep themselves supplied.
- The sixth season premiere of the animated series Archer titled "The Holdout" features the main character, a spy contracted by the CIA on a mission to Borneo to prevent a crashed American jet from falling into hostile hands. He encounters First Lieutenant Kintaru Sato of the Imperial Japanese Army who had been following his orders to "defend" the land since 10 May 1942. This episode first aired on 8 January 2015.
- A marooned Japanese pilot living on one of the islands of the Mergui Archipelago is depicted in "Biggles And The Lost Sovereigns" (Brockhampton Press 1964). The pilot, whose plane crashed on the island during the war, survives the crash and he lives a survivalist lifestyle on the island. Unaware of the war's ending, he attacks various people who he encounters from time to time.
- The video game FarCry 3 features collectible journals that the player can collect; pieced together, they tell the story of Japanese holdouts who had been stationed on the island at the time of Japan's surrender, and slowly descended into hysteria as paranoia and news of Japan's defeat began to circulate.
- Cursed soldiers
- Forest Brothers
- Hermann Detzner
- Ishinosuke Uwano
- Kalibata Heroes Cemetery
- Operation Haudegen
- Volunteer Fighting Corps
- This Day in history
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