On this date in 1972 Shōichi Yokoi (横井 庄一) was discovered hiding in the jungles of Guam, almost 28 years after U.S. forces had regained control of the island in 1944. Amazingly, he was not the last Japanese soldier discovered in hiding decades after the Second World War had ended. Two more were discovered later.
Yokoi was born in Saori, Aichi Prefecture. He was an apprentice tailor when he was conscripted in 1941. Initially, Yokoi served with the 29th Infantry Division in Manchukuo. In 1943, he was transferred to the 38th Regiment in the Mariana Islands and arrived on Guam in February 1943. When US forces captured the island in the 1944 Battle of Guam, Yokoi went into hiding with nine other Japanese soldiers. Seven of the original ten eventually moved away and only three remained in the region. These men separated but visited each other until about 1964, when the other two died in a flood. The last eight years Yokoi lived alone. Yokoi survived by hunting, primarily at night. He used native plants to make clothes, bedding, and storage implements, which he carefully hid in his cave.
On the evening of 24th January 1972, Yokoi was discovered in the jungle by Jesus Dueñas and Manuel De Gracia, two local men checking their shrimp traps along a small river on Talofofo. They had assumed Yokoi was a villager from Talofofo, but he thought his life was in danger and attacked them. They managed to subdue him and carried him out of the jungle with minor bruising.
“It is with much embarrassment that I return,” he said upon his return to Japan. The remark quickly became a popular saying in Japan.
Despite having hidden for 28 years in a jungle cave, he had known since 1952 that World War II had ended. He feared coming out of hiding, explaining, “We Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive.”
After a whirlwind media tour of Japan, he married and settled down in rural Aichi Prefecture. Yokoi became a popular television personality and an advocate of austere living. He was featured in a 1977 documentary film called Yokoi and His Twenty-Eight Years of Secret Life on Guam. He eventually received the equivalent of US$ 300 in back pay, and a small pension. Although he never met Emperor Hirohito, while visiting the grounds of the Imperial Palace, Yokoi said, “Your Majesties, I have returned home … I deeply regret that I could not serve you well. The world has certainly changed, but my determination to serve you will never change.”
Yokoi died in 1997 of a heart attack at the age of 82, and was buried at a Nagoya cemetery, under a gravestone that had originally been commissioned by his mother in 1955, after Yokoi had been officially declared dead.
There are plenty of recipes from Guam that you could use to celebrate Yokoi, although given that he was hiding from locals, he would not have learned Guam cooking. Apigige’ is a well-known snack or dessert from Guam made from sweetened cassava and young coconut. The mix is wrapped in banana leaf and grilled. This video is comprehensive although it shows the apigige’ cooking on a stovetop griddle, but in survival mode you would use a wood or charcoal fired grill.