An old Japanese soldier in the forest

Shoichi Yokoi’s Never-ending War

Conscripted in 1941, Shoichi Yokoi is one of several Japanese soldiers who didn’t return home after the end of the second world war in 1945. His survival skills would put Bear Grylls to shame as he managed to survive practically on his own up until 1972 on the island of Guam.

When the island was invaded by American forces in 1944 he hid in the jungle with nine other soldiers. The group separated leaving three remaining in the area. The three men did not stay together as a single unit, but instead survived independently, just visiting each other occasionally over a 21 year period which ended in 1964 when Shoichi Yokoi’s compatriots died in a flood on the island.

Their separation may have been a way of evading capture as the group did not realise that the war was over, despite the American army dropping leaflets across the island. Perhaps they thought the leaflets were a cunning ruse, which would have been perfectly believable as leaflet drops were a standard propaganda vehicle (and still are).

He had however known since the fifties that the war had been over, but chose to remain hidden. He apparently did this for reasons of honour. To a Japanese soldier death was preferred over the social disgrace of being captured. This is probably the most bizarre part of his story.

On his return to Japan in 1972 his motivation was repeated when unbelievably he publicly declared his embarrassment at being captured by the two islanders who had mistaken him for a local. Perhaps the war only truly ended for him when he realised that he was in fact a celebrity and went on to write a book about his jungle years. He also used the aptitude he gained during his years of survival to promote frugal living on television, perhaps an indication of his struggle with the changes in Japanese society.

Such dedication to national and military ideology above all else must surely be one of the strangest facets of psychology.

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