A TEAM of negotiators and former soldiers from Tokyo has been sent to the jungles of the Philippines to try to bring home soldiers of Japan’s Imperial Army who are still fighting the Second World War.
The team is to investigate reports of former soldiers living in the mountains and jungles of Luzon nearly 60 years after the war ended.
Three negotiators from Japan’s health and welfare ministry and two veterans, who themselves opted to stay behind in the Philippines after it fell in 1945 rather than face the shame of surrender, travelled to Manila yesterday.
One of the veterans, Yoshihiko Terashima, 82, continued the fight against the United States for five years after the official surrender, according to his son, Kazuhiko.
"We’re not sure how many might still be out there, but we think it might be as many as four individuals," he said from the family home in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
"If they are there, then my father will bring them home," he added.
"My father was with a small group of soldiers that stayed behind to fight the US for five years, but these men will be old soldiers now."
Mr Terashima is the president of a veterans’ organisation and has chased a series of rumours of military stragglers in the Philippines for several years, his son said.
This latest lead was passed on to him in the summer and he travelled to the Philippines in early September to conduct initial research after letting the government know.
According to the ministry, a former Japanese soldier decided to remain in a village near Manila after capitulation and, until his death in 1996, was in contact with a handful of his former comrades in arms.
If the report turns out to be true, it would be the first time that a Japanese hold-out from the war had been tracked down since 1974.
In that year, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was discovered in the Philippines.
Mr Onoda wept bitterly when he was eventually talked into coming out of the jungle by his former commander, who was flown to the island of Lubang and ordered him to lay down his rifle.
Mr Onoda found it impossible to adapt to life in Japan and emigrated to Brazil to run a cattle farm. He later returned to Japan to run a nature camp for children.
An estimated three million Japanese troops were overseas when the emperor announced Japan’s surrender. Some went into hiding, waiting for attacks that never came and messages from commands that had long since been disbanded.
Short of supplies and lacking communication with Japan, they hid from Allied mopping-up patrols in the jungles and mountains of the islands they occupied.
These men were driven by the Bushido code of feudal Japan, which forbade surrender, and it was months - and in some cases years - before they realised the war was over.