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Wikipedia in its article on the Surrender of Japan, claims:

Some Japanese holdouts, especially on small Pacific Islands, refused to surrender at all (believing the declaration to be propaganda or considering surrender against their code). Some may never have heard of it. Teruo Nakamura, the last known holdout, emerged from his hidden retreat in Indonesia in December 1974...

Is this true? How common was this?

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    What I'd love to know is whether Japan was the only nation to have holdouts for extended periods of time, or whether other countries (in any war, not just WWII) had the same thing. – Andrew Grimm May 4 '14 at 6:40
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    @AndrewGrimm, that'd make a great question; you should ask it. – Joe May 4 '14 at 7:17
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    @AndrewGrimm - Eastern Europe countries had armed guerilla/partisan movements fighting against Soviet occupation many years after the war (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…), with some fighers coming out (dead) long after the guerilla movements were defeated. And there was a case of a WW2 Red Army deserter still hiding from the Soviet authorities until USSR collapsed - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C4%81nis_P%C4%ABnups . – Peteris May 4 '14 at 7:53
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    @AndrewGrimm To hear some talk there are Confederates holding out even today. – Oldcat May 6 '14 at 0:14
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    One may note that significant part of the military was reluctant to surrender anyway... One of the biggest fear of the Emperor and the government was a military coup that would prevent the surrender before they made their decision (and indeed there were an unsuccessful coup). – Greg Dec 17 '16 at 2:40
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Another Wikipedia article might hold your answer. News of Japan's surrender didn't reach everyone all at once (as you'd expect), though it is surprising how many Japanese soldiers were still holding out for years. According to that article, the following number of soldiers surrendered or were killed (by decade):

  • 1940s: 85
  • 1950s: 34
  • 1960s: 2
  • 1970s: 4

As you can see, out of the million and a half Japanese soldiers in WWII, a vanishingly small number of them became holdouts after the end of the war.

Earlier this year the New York Times wrote an article on the occasion of the death of one of the last holdouts, Hiroo Onoda, who surrendered in 1974.

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    The US took quite a lot of steps to try and reduce the holdouts, having Japanese leaders write messages or record them to be distributed in areas where there might be holdouts. – Oldcat May 6 '14 at 0:16
  • they even brought the the die hard's former commander, in person, to shout orders to surrender. He though that his commander had become a traitor. – Luiz Feb 19 at 12:36
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There have been stories that a few Japanese soldiers were still holding out in remote parts, such as in Indonesia, New Guinea, even Guadalcanal, as late as the 1990s. (Of course, these men would be in their late 60s & 70s by that time.) They knew the war was over & simply did not want to be found for any number of reasons.

And a few may have simply "gone native", melted into the local population. This website has a few stories about these last holdouts, including one guy who simply decided to pass himself off as an Okinawan, start a new life, & allow his family to assume he was dead. Said guy claimed there were a number of other former Japanese soldiers who had done the same thing. Who knows? Maybe one or two who had gone native may be still alive? My Dad, an American WWII vet, is still alive in his 90s.

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    the last category wouldn't count as holdouts. They laid down their arms and returned to civilian life. Many German soldiers and officials did the same at the end of WW2, fearing reprisals if they were identified as part of the Nazi regime (and often rightly so). – jwenting Feb 19 at 4:54

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