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Memorial museum for ex-Japanese soldier who lived for 28 yrs in Guam’s jungle closes – The

A full-scale model of a jungle cave is displayed at the memorial museum of Shoichi Yokoi in Nagoya’s Nakagawa Ward on Sept. 3, 2022. (Mainichi/Koji Hyodo)

NAGOYA — The memorial museum here for the late Shoichi Yokoi, a former Japanese soldier who lived in the mountains of Guam for 28 years without knowing the Pacific War had ended, closed on Sept. 3.

The closure of the museum, located in Yokoi’s home, followed the death of his wife Mihoko, who had served as the director of the facility, in May at the age of 94. On the day of the closing, people who had been close to the couple visited the site for the last time to pay their respects to the deceased.

Born in the village of Saori (the present-day city of Aisai), Aichi Prefecture, Yokoi left for the former Manchuria region of northeast China to fight in the war in 1941. He was sent to Guam in March 1944 and continued to live in the jungle, unaware that the war had ended, before being found and returning to Japan in February 1972. His first words upon his homecoming were, “Shamefully I have returned home.” This became a buzz phrase at the time.

Yokoi married Mihoko in November 1972 after an arrangement through an acquaintance, and he gave lectures throughout the country as a “poverty-stricken lifestyle critic.” In his later years, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

Shoichi Yokoi, center, arrives at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport from Guam on Feb. 2, 1972. (Mainichi)

On his sickbed, Yokoi entrusted to Mihoko his dream of building a memorial museum before he passed away in September 1997 at age 82. Mihoko opened the memorial facility in June 2006. In the first-floor exhibition space of their two-story wooden house, approximately 70 items were displayed, including a life-size model of a jungle cave, in which Yokoi lived during his survival in Guam, reproduced with bamboo and Japanese “washi” paper, Yokoi’s handmade loom, and his works of pottery, which he began making at age 60.

Mihoko had conveyed Yokoi’s lifestyle and the importance of peace to museum visitors, but the museum had been temporarily closed since April 2020, when she returned to her parents’ home in the city of Kyoto due to the coronavirus pandemic. In July 2020, she told the Mainichi Shimbun, “When I get well, I would like to return (to Nagoya), and I would like everyone to come visit,” but she was unable to fulfill her wish and passed away.

On Sept. 3, about 20 people including relatives as well as storytellers and others who had been friends with the couple visited the museum and viewed the exhibits with nostalgia. Among them was Omi Hatashin, 55, a nephew of Mihoko and a professor at Osaka Jogakuin University. He said that after Mihoko’s death, they explored the possibility of transferring the museum to another party, leaving it as it was, but it proved difficult. There was no one in the city of Nagoya to rely on, so they decided to close the facility.

Hatashin said, “My aunt continued to tell stories in the hope that the war, in which many people did not return home alive, would never be repeated.”

Mihoko Yokoi is seen next to the daily tools which her husband Shoichi recreated after returning to Japan, in Nagoya’s Nakagawa Ward, on Aug. 5, 2005. (Mainichi)

Hatashin and others plan to donate as many of Yokoi’s remaining items, including his ceramic works, as possible to public institutions in various regions, including Guam. In the future, the museum will be sold after the site is cleared.

Within the museum, there are also audio tapes of Yokoi’s conversations after his return to Japan, and Hatashin said, “In the future, I would like to conduct joint research with fellow researchers and make these recordings available to the general public.”

(Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase, Nagoya News Center)

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