Two elderly Japanese have emerged from 45 years in the jungle, becoming the most recent of a group of Japanese for whom World War II stretched on for decades.
Shigeyuki Hashimoto, now 71, and Kiyoaki Tanaka, 77, were employees of a Japanese company in Malaysia at the end of the war, but they joined Communist guerrillas fighting for Malaysia's independence from Britain, one of Japan's former enemies, rather than return home.The group, the Communist Party of Malaysia, continued its insurgency after the country became independent in 1957 but officially laid down its arms Dec. 2 when it signed a peace accord with Malaysian and Thai officials.
Hashimoto and Tanaka, who are to return to Tokyo on Saturday, are unlikely to get the massive hero's welcome given to Japan's most famous World War II holdouts, Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi and Lt. Hiroo Onoda, when they emerged in 1972 and 1974 respectively.
Friends plan welcoming ceremonies for the two, but many Japanese are uncomfortable with the issues of blind dedication and loyalty raised by the men's return.
Wartime Japanese were taught to be loyal to the nation and emperor, and soldiers were trained to obey a code that said death was preferable to surrender.
In interviews televised here, Tanaka and Hashimoto said they felt a responsibility to stay and help the guerrillas because of Japan's wartime claim to be saving Asia from European dominance.
"We thought Malaysians would think we were taking advantage of them if we let Britain reclaim their country," Hashimoto said.
Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare still is investigating the cases of 48 former Japanese soldiers who could be living in the vast areas of Asia controlled by Japan during the war.
The best-known holdout, Onoda, left the Philippine jungle on his 52nd birthday in 1974. An intelligence officer, he received orders in 1945 to stay behind and spy on the U.S. armed forces. Japan surrendered in August 1945.
Onoda refused to give up, despite at least four searches by Japanese officials in which family members appealed to him over loudspeakers and leaflets were dropped from airplanes calling on him to surrender.
Onoda later said he did not give up because no one had reversed his order - until his former commander, Maj. Yoshimi Taniguchi, traveled to the Philippines and ordered him to come out.
In his formal surrender to then-President Ferdinand Marcos, broadcast on national Japanese television, Onoda wore his 30-year-old imperial army uniform, cap and sword.
After returning home, Onoda decided he did not have the skills to live in modern Japanese society and moved to Brazil, where he danced in discos, got married and lived on a ranch.
"I do not consider those 30 years a waste of time. I was ordered to go there and I carried out the orders to the best of my ability."