More Former Japanese Soldiers

There has been some news in the last two days about the possibility that two more Japanese soldiers left behind in the Philippines being “discovered” on the island of Mindanao. The Japanese government apparently set up a meeting with them to be held today, Saturday May 28th but they failed to show. While there is a lot of uncertainty on the details, especially since the two are said to be in an area where anti-government rebels are active, they may be a Yamakawa Yoshio 山川吉雄さん(aged 87) and Nakauchi Tsuzuki 中内続喜 (aged 85) who were both presumed dead. They are reported to be in good health and desire to return to Japan.

It seems likely, however, that this will not be as spectacular as some of the previous cases from the 1960s and 1970s where soldiers didn’t even know the war was over. At least one report says these soldiers may have been afraid to reveal themselves due to their fear of court martial.

Yomiuri’s report on this is here, and you can read two articles at Asahi here and here. Sankei claims that there is information on as many as 40 Japanese former soldiers possible alive on the island. Mainichi has an article with more background on the unit in which these two particular soldiers may have served. There is an Associated Press article in English available here. There are also a few pictures in a Yahoo slide show available here. Another article in English over at the Japan Times (thx to Nichi Nichi). BBC report is here.

I’ll keep this posting open and add more article links as I come across them, or as they are mentioned in comments to this posting. Since so little is known at this point it is too early to comment too much, but one thing strikes me as curious. If, as some of the articles indicate, information about these soldiers was available last August, and an investigation was done in December of last year, and the Japanese government involved at least since February, I find the timing of this revelation and the meeting setup just slightly suspicious. Since we are approaching the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, having lots of media reports about the tragic stories of soldiers left in places like the Philippines will certainly take some of the steam away from reports discussing the more problematic legacies of the conflict, both domestically in Japan and in terms of its relationship with other Asian countries. While there is nothing problematic about the “bring the boys back home” feelings generated by incidents like this, and the emotional reunions that follow, they are also heavily loaded events that often get radically de-contextualized in the media reports that followed.


  1. I don’t know. It’s a hard call whether there’s some kind of special conspiracy involved or it’s no more than the usual snail-paced reaction and collective incompetence of the Japanese gov’t bureaucracy. Having worked in several collectively incompetent bureaucracies (including both the U.S. Army and a state gov’t!), I generally lean toward incompetence as the most likely explanation in most cases. If you ever end up a university administrator, I suspect you’ll incline a bit more to the same view.

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