O is for Hiroo Onada

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for
my contributions to round 18 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme.

The idea of Japanese soldiers continuing the fight long after World War Two ended is something of an obvious cliché, but it did happen and one of the best known of those post-war warriors is Hiroo Onada who carried on his one-man campaign until 1974.

Onada was born to a family of the samurai warrior class in 1922. His father was a sergeant with the 4th Cavalry Brigade until he was killed in China in 1943.

Onada aged 12His son worked for a trading company in Wuhan, China, until he was 18 and enlisted to serve in the Imperial Japanese army.

Onada trained as an intelligence officer and in 1944 he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines with order to hamper enemy attacks, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor. His orders also stated that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life.

He was prevented from carrying out his orders by the senior officer on the island who realised the hopelessness of their position and when it was taken by the Americans in February 1945, Onada took to the hills with three other soldiers intent on carrying out a guerilla campaign against the occupation.

Onada surrendersDespite finding leaflets telling them that the war was over, including one from General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army ordering them to surrender, Onada and his tiny gang decided that they were a ruse by the hated Americans and determined to hold their position.

One of the three soldiers left the group in 1949 and surrendered to the authorities and another was shot in the leg by fishermen in 1953. He was nursed back to health by Onada, but was later killed by a search party looking for the group. The third soldier was shot and killed by the police as he and Onada attempted to burn a rice crop.

Onada with Norio Suzuki

Onada with Norio Suzuki

In 1974, Onada was found by Norio Suzuki, a Japanese hippie who was traveling the world in search of ‘Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order’. The two became friends, but Onada still refused to surrender without orders from his superiors.

Suzuki took this message back to Japan and the government located Onada’s former commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. He flew to Lubang where on 9 March, 1974, he finally met Onoda and issued the following orders:

  • In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
  • In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff’s Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
  • 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.

Onada surrenders his swordRelieved of his duty, Onada surrendered, handing over his sword, rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades, plus the dagger his mother had given him to kill himself if he was ever captured.

Although he had been involved in criminal activities, his circumstances were taken into consideration and he was pardoned by President Marcos.

Onada was a popular figure when he returned to Japan and even encouraged to join their house of representatives. He was also offered a large sum of back-pay which he refused and any money he did receive from well-wishers he donated to the Shinto Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

Onada in later lifeDisillusioned by the erosion of traditional Japanese values, Onada followed his brother to Brazil where he raised cattle and also married there in 1976. He returned to Japan in 1984 to set-up the Onoda Shizen Juku (Onoda Nature School) educational camps for young people. He also revisited Lubang Island in 1996, donating $10,000 to the local school on Lubang.

Onada divided his time between Brazil and Japan and was awarded the Merit medal of Santos-Dumont by the Brazilian Air Force in 2004. He was also a member of Nippon Kaigi, which openly promotes the restoration of the monarchy and militarism in Japan. He died of heart failure in Tokyo in 2014 at the age of 91.

For further information, see No Surrender: My Thirty Year War, Wikipedia, the Guardian, the BBC and the Economist.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

9 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 20th April 2016

    Another fascinating story Ian. Thank you for sharing it. It sounds like Norio Suzuki would be a good subject for a separate post. Now stop blogging and get back to work my lad!

  • Indrani 20th April 2016

    So much history, this was a good read.
    Happy ABCW!

  • Melody Steenkamp 20th April 2016

    a lot of historie to a, in fact, very sad story… the horrific consequences of war, every war…. devastates lots of people for their lifetime, how sad.

    Have a nice abc-wednesday-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)

  • Di. 20th April 2016

    What a proud and loyal Samurai Warrior, albeit if his views were somewhat misguided.
    A most interesting read, thank you for sharing it with us, I look forward to reading
    more of you stories soon !
    Best wishes,
    ABCW team.

    • Trevor Rowley 21st April 2016

      I’m not sure it’s correct to call this chap”misguided.” He was obeying orders he had received to the letter – perhaps he was foolish in obeying them to an extreme, but his dedication to duty is commendable.

  • Reader Wil 20th April 2016

    When I saw the photo of this Japanese soldier my curiosity was provoked, because he looked so much like the soldiers who had to guard us in the concentrationcamps.
    He was lucky that he had a more honorable job to do, for he was a man of honour and very brave. He showed a side the prisoners never had seen. Great entry!
    Wil, ABCW Team

  • Roger Green 21st April 2016

    This is one of the rare stories I had actually heard a little about!


  • Lee 22nd April 2016

    Weird, isn’t it? Sometimes ignorance isn’t bliss, after all.

    • Trevor Rowley 24th April 2016

      Not sure what your point is, Lee.


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