What makes him important to Guam is the role that he played in helping create the Japanese tourism industry that sustains the island today. His role wasn't intentional and wasn't direct, but his being discovered in Guam and the affinity that he still held to the island even into his later years helped to change the image that Japanese had of Guam. As an island where close to 20,000 soldiers died, and one site which were connected to so many others across Asia and the Pacific which had once signified victory and not just the soul draining horror of defeat and humiliation, Guam was in many ways invisible to Japan. It had been a casualty of their hunger for expansion and it was a further casualty of their amnesia.
Yokoi never would have approved of this amnesia, but he did love the island in the same way one cannot let go of the sites of their trauma becomes they have become too dear and too intimate in terms of who they are, and his love was either infectious or at least convenient. He allowed the Japanese to see Guam in a new way. Allowing it to grow in a completely different place within their imaginary and eventually allowing them as a nation to enjoy Guam without admitting to their past atrocities there. I'll be writing more about him and this importance later.
Below is his obituary from The Economist.
Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese survivor, died on September 22nd, aged 82
THE hiding place on the Pacific island of Guam where Shoichi Yokoi lived for nearly 27 years was destroyed by a typhoon. Never mind, the replica that has replaced it looks just as inhospitable to the many Japanese who come to marvel how their compatriot survived. Only in January 1972, when he was 56, did Sergeant Yokoi of the Japanese Imperial Army abandon his jungle life after being spotted fishing by two local people, and, as he said, after being urged by the spirits of his dead comrades to come out of hiding.
He was taken to hospital, where the doctors wanted to X-ray him. Unfamiliar with modern medical equipment, he told them, “If you want to kill me, kill me quickly.” The doctors calmed the living fossil who had adapted to the jungle, living on fruit and nuts, with fish and the odd rat or frog for protein. When his army uniform rotted away, Mr Yokoi dressed in clothes that he had woven from tree bark. It was helpful that he had been a tailor in civilian life.
He returned to Japan, 31 years after he had left, to a flag-waving welcome, but he was a reluctant hero. “I have a gun from the emperor and I have brought it back,” he said. He apologised that he could not fulfil his duties. “I am ashamed that I have come home alive.”
His was the guilt of the survivor. Of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers defending Guam, some 19,000 were killed when the Americans regained the island in 1944, and 2,000 survivors fled to the jungle. Most gave up when Japan surrendered in 1945, but Mr Yokoi and a few others did not, apparently unaware that the war had ended. His two remaining colleagues died in 1964, leaving Mr Yokoi on his own for another eight years.
An oddity of historyWhile admiring Shoichi Yokoi's resourcefulness as a Japanese Robinson Crusoe, the post-war generations have not shown much sympathy for his grief that, by eventually returning, he had let down the army and Emperor Hirohito. Among older Japanese there may be nostalgia for the imperial days, but to most modern Japanese emperor worship is an historical oddity: fewer than half of the Japanese polled cared a cent about the ascension of Akihito, Hirohito's son, to the chrysanthemum throne in 1990 after his father's death. But to the likes of Mr Yokoi, doing the bidding of the emperor, a descendant of the Sun Goddess, was a religious duty relayed by his more worldly army superiors. As Muslims pray facing towards Mecca, so Japanese schoolchildren at that time turned towards Tokyo in morning assembly. These were the days of the kamikaze pilots who were prepared to crash into oblivion, because that was the emperor's command. In Saipan, families hurled themselves over a cliff shouting loyalty to the emperor, rather than be captured by the advancing Americans. (So-called Banzai Cliff is another place that draws astonished Japanese tourists.) Only after the war, at the behest of the Americans who thought that emperor worship contributed to the Japanese view of themselves as superior to other races, did Hirohito renounce divinity in his “Declaration of Humanity”.
Although Mr Yokoi was the most famous of the old warriors to return from the jungle, there were others who refused to believe that Japan could have been defeated. Two years after Mr Yokoi returned, Hiroo Onoda, a lieutenant, was discovered in the Philippines with two other Japanese soldiers. His rifle (unlike Mr Yokoi's) still worked and he had potted a few locals over the years. The strength of his commitment to emperor and country was, if anything, even fiercer than Mr Yokoi's. Only when his former commander was flown to the Philippines was Mr Onoda persuaded to surrender.
Mr Yokoi adapted to the hustle of modern Japan remarkably quickly. Nine months after returning he was married. He became a pacifist, wrote the first of his two books and became a television commentator on survival tactics. He even stood for election to Japan's upper house of parliament in 1974.
Yet he was unhappy with many aspects of Japan. The country was experiencing heady economic growth. What had happened to its old qualities of elegance, harmony and simplicity? “Golf courses should be turned into bean fields,” wrote Mr Yokoi. The Japanese people should live simply, frugally and without waste. Mr Yokoi was, according to the slogan of his election campaign, an “endurable-life critic”. His view of life contained much wartime puritanism: “Don't eat excessively. Don't wear too much. Don't be vain, use your brain.” Evidently, Japanese voters preferred not to, and Mr Yokoi was not elected. Undeterred, he continued to preach the virtues of autarky.
In his later years, Mr Yokoi faded from public life. He took up pottery and calligraphy, grew organic vegetables and became ever more disenchanted with modern Japan. “I'm not happy with the present system of education, politics, religion, just about everything,” he said. After several years of illness he died of a heart attack. And perhaps there was heartbreak, too, as he looked back fondly at his “natural” life in the jungle.