Life after a 29-Year War: Hiroo Onoda

  • By Neven Connolly

Life after a 29-Year War: Hiroo Onoda

Many have heard fleetingly the story of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese military lieutenant who was dispatched to the Phillipino island of Lubang in 1944 and who, when confronted with news of Japan’s surrender to the Allied forces, neglected the information as false enemy propaganda and continued to fight with guerilla tactics from the jungle for almost three decades (almost five times the length of the actual war).

Onoda’s comrades one by one either surrendered or were killed in shootouts with local police until, as the last man standing, Onoda laid down his arms at the command of his former superior officer (at this point a retired bookseller) who was flown out to confront him. The morally ambiguous story of what some call an inspirational example of courageous survival and others call a glorified account of zealous brutality however is only one chapter of a book wherein the following chapter just as interesting.

Disenfranchised by what had become of Japanese society in his absence, Onoda moved to join the Japanese colony in Sao Paulo, Brazil a year after his return and made a new living as a cattle rancher. After marrying and settling into the lifestyle he heard of a nineteen year old Japanese boy that had killed their parents after failing their university entrance exams and with this news Onoda packed his bags and returned to Japan where he founded the Onoda Nature School. At this school Japanese children would learn survival skills and life mentalities that would empower them in a way so that, for example, if frustrated by their parents after failing university entrance exams, a young man would feel empowered to move out of home confidently instead of resorting to such violence. 

At both his school and in lectures to students at other schools that Onoda was invited to speak at children and young adults absorbed life lessons unavailable through their own education systems, lessons about community (“people cannot live by themselves”), selflessness and resilience, as illustrated in some of the student’s activities: “Life is not fair and people are not equal".



"Some people eat better than others. At our nature school, children participate in survival games. For example, they must prepare their own dinner from ingredients they find. Bartering is allowed but still some children will have a feast compared to others.” Hiroo Onada returned to Lubang in 1996 and gifted a local school with USD$10,000 in goodwill however many remember the thirty local civilians that died unnecessarily by his hand in the decades he spent there fighting a war that had long since passed.

Nevertheless Onoda received a pardon from the Philippino government (due to the unique circumstances), countless words of praise from Japanese officials and, after becoming an honorary citizen of Brazil for his time and work spent in Colonia Jamic over the years back and forth, he received a merit medal of Santos-Dumont. His wife Machie Onoda, after founding the Onoda Nature School alongside him, became the head of the Japan Woman’s Association in 2006. Hiroo Onoda himself passed away on January 16th, 2014, a man who could have debatedly been placed at either end on a scale of morality and virtue but in any scenario was undoubtedly a unique and significant individual.


References: Judit Kawaguchi, Words To Live By: https://judittokyo.com/words-to-live-by/hiroo-onoda/

Spirit and Spine: Hiroo Onada: https://judittokyo.com/words-to-live-by/hiroo-onoda/

The Japan Times: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2007/01/16/people/hiroo-onoda/#.XsNfmS1L3OQ

NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/world/asia/hiroo-onoda-imperial-japanese-army-officer-dies-at-91.html

Pattaya Daily News: https://web.archive.org/web/20131203030322/http://www.pattayadailynews.com/en/2010/06/15/hiroo-onoda’s-twenty-nine-year-private-war/

Military Wikia: https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Hiroo_Onoda

Older Post Newer Post