In our modern minds this might seem like an unbelievable story, that a Japanese soldier hid out in the jungles of Guam rather than face his country’s defeat in WWII. But Soichi Yokoi, who was discovered in the jungles of Guam on January 24, 1972, was actually not the only one. Another Japanese soldier, Hiroo Onoda was found in the Phillipine jungles in 1974, after hiding there for 30 years.
According to a New York Times article about Soichi’s death in September of 1997, “Japanese troops were encouraged to fight to the death and taught that surrender was deeply shameful, and so when American troops seized control of Guam in 1944, Mr. Yokoi and more than 1,000 other Japanese soldiers hid in the jungle rather than give up or commit suicide.”
Soichi spent his time in Guam, according to Wikipedia, hunting and fishing and built himself an underground living space. Soichi had been a tailor in Japan before being drafted in 1941 and arriving Guam in 1943.
Upon his arrival back in Japan, he uttered his now famous statement, “It is with much embarrassment that I return.” The New York Times interpreted this statement a little differently as, “I am ashamed that I have returned alive.”
Soichi wanted to meet the Emperor to express his regret at not having done more to win the war, but was never given an audience. He did, however, receive a hero’s welcome and quickly settled back into regular life.
He even married six months after his return and spent 25 years with his wife until his death from a heart attack at the age of 82.
According to the New York Times, “He was the epitome of prewar values of diligence, loyalty to the Emperor and ganbaru, a ubiquitous Japanese word that roughly means to slog on tenaciously through tough times.”
A nephew, who wrote a book about Soichi’s journey said that toward the end of his life, his uncle became very nostalgic about his past and returned to Guam to visit several times with his wife.
It’s nearly impossible to envision a world where hiding in the jungles is preferable to taking your chances in civilization….or maybe it isn’t that hard to imagine.
Here are few resources to help you learn more about Soichi Yokoi:
- Wikipedia: Soichi Yokoi
- BBC News: “Soichi Yokoi, the Japanese Soldier who held out in Guam”
- The New York Times: “Shoichi Yokoi, 82, Is Dead; Japan Soldier Hid 27 Years”