TOKYO – Mystery continues to cloak reports of two former Japanese soldiers thought to have been located on Mindanao Island in the Philippines.

Three officials of the Japanese Embassy in Manila were recalled from the city of General Santos on Mindanao after they failed to meet with the two former soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army.

How did Yoshio Yamakawa, 87, and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, 85, both of whom belonged to the 30th Regiment of the 30th Division of the Imperial Army, remain hidden for so long, and how did they resurface?

Yoshihiko Terashima, 86, chairman of a Japanese organization for the war dead, said he was notified in August by a resident of Mindanao Island that three men believed to be former Japanese soldiers, including one named Sakurai were living there.

Terashima went to the island in December and learned from the resident, Marylin Nagaki, 49, and some guerrillas four Japanese names – Sakurai, Yamakawa, Nakauchi and Watanabe.

After confirming that Yoshio Yamakawa, Tsuzuki Nakauchi and Reiichi Sakurai had been members of the 30th Division, which fought on the island, Terashima and others of his organization determined Nagaki’s information had been true.

Terashima said that although he believed Nagaki had met all four Japanese, she told him she had only met one of the men in person – Sakurai – about three years ago.

The embassy began work on confirming the information on May 25 when a Japanese middleman telephoned Terashima, saying he had found Yamakawa and Nakauchi and wanted to bring them to Japan.

As both full names had been confirmed by the organization, it began to view the information from Nagaki and the man as credible.

On Friday, when embassy officials were having difficulty in arranging a meeting with the two former soldiers, the middleman handed a copy of a note said to have been written by the two former soldiers.

The embassy released the seven square centimeter note, on which was written in feeble letters: “Please help us. We are waiting. Yamakawa, Nakauchi.”

A government official doubted the note’s authenticity, saying real Japanese soldiers would have written a more elaborate note.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry official said he could not help but feel that the two names had taken on lives of their own.

The Japanese Embassy in Manila initially dispatched the three officials to the island to confirm information provided by the middleman.

According to embassy sources, the officials should have returned to Manila when the middleman failed to bring the two former Japanese soldiers to meet the officials, but due to the huge presence of reporters from Japan drawing national attention to the matter, the embassy could not immediately recall the three officials over fears that it would be criticized for neglecting its duties.

To prove to the public that the embassy was making all possible efforts to find the men, Akio Egawa of the Japanese embassy met with the middleman Sunday to speak about recalling the three officials.

It gradually became clear that the middleman’s information was no longer seen as credible. If he really wanted to help the two former soldiers return to Japan, why did he postpone the meeting over so-called turmoil created by reporters?

A Japanese businessman who lives in Manila and used to travel to General Santos on business with timber companies said rumors about former Japanese soldiers living in small villages had been circulating for a long time.

A man who worked for the Imperial Japanese Army said it was possible that the former soldiers’ deep relationship with their villages and guerrillas made it difficult for them to come out, if they were still alive.

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