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If you think you are going through difficult times, this is a story that will give you a perspective that you could never have imaged even possible.
Keep reading till the end.
Who was Hiro Onoda and why does his story matter?
Hiro Onoda was a Japanese soldier and he represented the country in the Second World War. He was 22 when he was sent to Lubang Island in Philippines in 1944. Part of his mission was to destroy the air field so Americans couldn’t land there.
However, when he reached there, he was prevented from carrying out his mission by his seniors there and since he was only an apprentice when he went there, he couldn’t override them.
Over a period of time (1944-45), most of the Japanese soldiers on the island died fighting the American soldiers. Hiro was left in the company of 3-4 of his colleagues by the time the Americans left. Their names were Shimada, Akatsu and Kozuka.
The war was over on 15th August 1945 after America dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered.
However, Hiro had orders not to surrender. When he was sent to Lubang, his senior had issued orders to never surrender and that they will come back, no longer how long it took. Hiro took those orders to his heart and vowed to take them seriously till the end of his life.
However, when the war was over and only the four of them were left on Lubang Island, the Japanese air force sent leaflets announcing that the war was over. Hiro and his colleagues got the leaflets but he didn’t believe them. He felt that the war was on and this was enemy conspiracy to get them to come out.
Therefore, they stayed inside the jungle.
Hiro Onoda walked out of the Island only in 1974 after thirty years of a war that got over in 1945. This is his story.
I know, this is a happiness blog, and so you may be right in asking, what has Hiro’s story got to do with happiness?
I have always said that happiness is the only output of life, and this story is about resilience and purpose. One cannot be happy without resilience and purpose. Therefore, I am sharing this story with you.
Let us get into it.
So what happened to Hiro Onoda and what did he do for thirty years when the war was over in 1945? Who did he fight for 29 years?
He fought a series of imaginary enemies and stayed in ‘war’ mode throughout those 29 years. He fought the islanders on Lubang Island, and the Philippines police whenever they entered the jungle. He kept moving from one hideout to another hideout.
When the leaflets were delivered inside the jungle, Akatsu, one of their colleagues left and surrendered to the Philippines army. The three of them were left post Akatsu left-Shimada, Kozuka and Hiro Onoda.
They decided that they will not surrender till the war is over. For them, the war wasn’t over.
How did they spend so many years on the island?
What did they eat?
They ate bananas, apples and whatever fruits they had access to, on the Island. Also, islanders raised cows. Hiro and his team of two would kill cows and eat beef.
In the words of Hiro from his book No Surrender, ‘our principal staple food was bananas. We cut off only the stem, sliced the bananas, skin and all, into rings about a quarter of an inch thick, then washed them thoroughly in water. That way the green bananas lost much of their bitterness. Then we boiled them with dried meat in coconut milk. The result tasted like overcooked sweet potatoes. It was not good. But we ate it most of the time.’ They also ate water buffaloes and horses. They tried whatever they could find in the jungle.
The food that they ate wasn’t fit for human consumption but they had to survive. So, they ate what they could.
Another problem was sleep. Where would you sleep in the jungle? There were rats, insects, Scorpios in the jungle and getting undisturbed sleep was always a challenge. Hiro mentions in the book that he did not sleep sound for even one night in his entire thirty year stay at Lubang.
They were always on guard because anybody who entered the jungle was enemy to them. Many times during the stay, the Japanese came to look for them. Philippines police came and looked for them. They were constantly searched for throughout the period at different intervals.
There were two incidents where his brothers came to the jungle to look for Hiro Onoda. Hiro did not come out. The first time it happened, he wasn’t sure if the person was his brother, even though his brother sang a song from his school days. The second incident happened when his brother and sister came to look for him. He still didn’t go even though this time he was sure that they were his siblings. Every time people came to search for him, he felt that it was enemy agenda and they were being framed to catch him and his colleagues.
At some point, Shimada was shot at by the police and only he and Kozuka were left in the jungle. They had vowed to fight till the end. In 1972, even Kozuka was shot in an encounter with the cops when they were on a mission which they conducted on a regular basis.
After that Hiro Onoda was left alone in the jungle and he only had himself to fall back on. Search parties were sent out for him, and he still believed that the war was on. He kept fighting the Second World War, while the war was over in 1945.
In 1974, a traveller from Japan called Norio Suzuki reached Lubang in search of Onoda. Onoda found him by the river and was extremely suspicious of him. However, Suzuki spoke to him in Japanese and that disarmed Onoda. He was always suspicious of him but he asked Suzuki a number of questions to convince himself that it wasn’t a trap.
Suzuki on the other hand wanted Onoda to come back to Japan. He knew that Onoda had resisted several attempts to get him out of the Jungle. He knew Onoda had been suspicious since his colleagues Shimada and Kozuka had been killed.
Onoda told him that he could only come out if he got orders from his immediate superior in the army. He had been told to fight and not surrender. He couldn’t surrender without orders.
Norio Suzuki told him he would come back. He also took a few pictures of Onoda to convince the Japanese that he had indeed met him. In Japan, they found Onoda’s superior who had now become a bookseller, after the war was over. He was issued orders by the army for him to carry to Lubang Island. They were both sent to fetch Onoda back to the country.
Even after meeting Norio Suzuki, Hiro Onoda was thinking that he may fall into a trap since Suzukicould be an enemy agent. In his mind, the war was still on. It had been thirty years since he had been on the Island. He was at war, still.
True to his promise, Suzuki came back with Major Taniguchi. Onoda saluted his senior and received his orders. He finally surrendered and agreed to return back to Japan. After thirty years, he returned back to Japan and received as a hero.
That is the story of Hiro Onoda.
Now, there are several interpretations one can have to the story of Hiro Onoda. When I came across this story, I ordered his autobiography and read through it. I shared on social media. A lot of people said that he was deluded and he should have come out way back. A few people said it was a waste of life.
Yes, if he had trusted the information that he was being given, he would have surrendered. That’s fine. There are multiple interpretations but I am interested in understanding what we can learn from Hiro’s story.
Here are the lessons we can derive from the life of Hiro Onoda.
I am writing this piece in 2020, which is one of the most difficult years in the history of human life. Coronavirus has killed over a million people globally and there have been 35 million reported cases. The entire humanity has been confined at home and millions of people have lost their livelihood since many industries have been rendered irrelevant.
However, is this more difficult than spending thirty years in a jungle believing you are at war?
If a man can spend thirty years inside a jungle with nothing suitable for human consumption to eat, sleep with insects and in a perpetual state of war, we can all face this. We are capable of bearing a lot of pain and adversity. Yes, this is difficult but Hiro Onoda can figure out how to exist in a jungle for 3 decades, we can try and sustain this. Let the memory of Hiro Onoda inspire you to fight your difficulties.
2. The importance of purpose
Hiro did not spend thirty years for nothing. He was at war. In his mind, he was at war. His days at Lubang Island had purpose. A lot of people may say he wasted 29 years of his fighting for nothing. But, to his mind, he wasn’t fighting for nothing. He was fighting for something. His fight for 29 years after the war was over, meant something to him.
This means that if you think your days have purpose, you can learn to survive through the chaos.
He had no material goods while he fought a thirty year war. For 29 years, after his Japanese colleagues died or surrendered, he was left to fend for himself without any food supply, no television or radio (although he stole one from villagers in the later years), no bed, no car, and no roof. He literally had nothing. He and his two colleagues killed cow for beef, lived on bananas and other fruits available in the jungle and literally lived in inhuman conditions.
In the city life that we live in, we need big homes, big cars to believe that we are living the good life. But, if God forbid, adversity falls upon us, the thought of Hiro Onoda is enough to convince us that we can live on far than we believe we need.
4. We need friends and company
For the majority of the 29 years on the Island, Hiro had Shimada and Kozuka for company. Kozuka only died in 1972. He mentioned in the book that Shimada taught them how to survive. We cannot live lives on our own. We need friends and human support who can complement us and make up for our weaknesses.
It is highly unlikely that he would have survived so long had he been alone on the island.
Hiro Onoda did not give up. Even when he felt that the war was on, he had been told not to surrender. He did not surrender to the enemy. In his mind, Japan would win the war some day since the Japanese were told not to give up till the last man. He would not give up even he was to die fighting a war that he believed in. That’s more persistence than most of us have on any given day. If Hiro Onoda can persist for thirty years for a war he believed in, we must also persist in trying to achieve our goals, till we have any life left in us.
6. Food, water and sleep
Onoda drank boiled water all throughout those thirty years. Although the water was clean in the jungle but animals pissed inside it and therefore, he had to boil it. He survived on food which a city dweller would not touch and therefore, the body is capable of living on a lot less, as long as there is nutrition. One can really survive on bananas, beef and coconuts. I hope you and I don’t have to.
He didn’t sleep sound for one night and that would make one believe that sleep is overrated. But then, most of us can’t do without sleep for long. Apparently, when your life is in danger, you learn to make do without sleep.
7. 29 years is a really long time
I truly consider the story of Hiro Onoda as one of the greatest survival stories in human history. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you would know that I consider the lives of Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, and Nick Vujicic as inspirational.
The story of Hiro Onoda is an addition to my inspirations.
Onoda lived on till 2014, 40 more years after he returned back to civilization. He was fit after having spent 3 decades in the jungle, on a war he assumed.
This is it. This is the end of this story.
What did you learn from this? Please do comment in, so I can learn from you.
Thank you for reading.
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