01/17/2014, 00.00
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Tokyo, Imperial Japan’s "last samurai" dies

Hiroo Onoda, a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, spent 29 years hidden in a Philippine jungle convinced the war was still ongoing. After surrendering in 1974 and handing his sword to President Marcos – who pardoned him despite 30 murders in peacetime – he returned to Japan to teach young people the value of redemption and peace.

Tokyo ( AsiaNews) - After a lifetime of war (real and imagined) and redemption by teaching young people the value of peace, the the last samurai of Imperial Japan has died . Hiroo Onoda, a second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army, who hid in the jungles of the Philippines for 29 years, refusing to believe that World War II ended, died on Jan. 16, 10 days after he entered a Tokyo hospital with pneumonia. He was 91.

Onoda was born in March 1922 in what is now called Kainan, Wakayama Prefecture in . In 1944 he enrolled in the Imperial Army Military School, where he was trained for guerrilla warfare : the Second World War was about to end and the Japanese military leaders have abandoned the idea of suicide bombers, replacing them with infiltrated fighters. He was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines, with the task of waging guerilla warfare on the Allied Forces who were based there.

In 1945, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the surrender of Japan, Onoda was still hidden in the jungle of Lubang . The leaflets dropped by the American to inform the public that the war was over are written in Japanese, but the lieutenant did not believe them because they contained "too many mistakes" and regarded them as a "trick by the U.S. " to flush out the guerrillas. Thus he decided to continue his lone battle.

In 1974, Norio Suzuki, an adventurer who traveled extensively, encountered Onoda on the island. Suzuki explained that the war was long over, but Onoda responded: "I will not quit fighting unless there is an order that relieves me of my duty". Suzuki warned the Tokyo government, who succeded in locating Onoda's wartime commander: He travelled to the Philippines and ordered the surrender of his old comrade.  After Onoda, only Teruo Nakamura, a native of Taiwan but enlisted by Japan, continued to fight for another 7 months hidden in a jungle of Indonesia. Nakamura died in 1979 in Taipei.

After saluting the flag and bowing to his commander, Lieutenant Onoda handed over his Samurai sword to President Ferdinand Marcos ( see photo) and surrendered. The Manila government pardoned him, but the population of Lubang continued for years to seek justice for the 30 people who the last samurai imperial killed during his guerrilla warfare. In 2010 , in an interview , he said: "Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. I became an officer and I received an order."

In 1975 he joined his brother in Brazil and began working on his farm: here he married Machie , who became the president of the Association of Japanese women . In 1980, he read the story of a young man from Kanagawa Prefecture who killed his parents because of the stress caused by the college entrance exams and decided to return to Japan. According to his brother, he wanted "to teach young people how to become strong enough to overcome the difficulties of life without resorting to violence".  This is why he opened a school in Yamanashi in 1984, which later moved to Fukushima in 1991.

In 1996 he returned to Lubang to donate over 10 thousand dollars to a primary school. Once he was too old to work, he began to tour the country giving conferences on the theme of "inner strength " and " redemption as a path to peace." Last October, after a reflection of about 20 years , he published a book entitled " Ikiru " ( "Live " ), which became a best-seller in the country.

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