The loot of Luzon
Tokyo gold buried in the Philippinesreally?
BY MIKE THARP
Shortly before his trial for war crimes, Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki
Yamashita was asked the main cause of Japan's defeat. According to historian John Dower, the general "responded with the only English word he
used in the entire interview: 'science.' "
Science, as it turns out, has almost nothing to do with Yamashita's personal
legacy. As legend has it, Emperor Hirohito ordered him to hide tons of gold and
other treasures in a maze of booby-trapped Philippine tunnelsriches to help Japan rebuild from the ashes of its imminent defeat.
Historians have never unearthed credible evidence of the Yamashita gold, but the story
took on a life of its own. Today, 55 years after the stocky general
walked out of his mountain redoubt and surrendered to U.S. infantrymen, there's a
ready supply of books, articles, and Web sites about the treasure. The
bestselling novel Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson cuts between World War II and the present
in a tale about the gold. Earlier this year, a nonfiction "secret history" of Japan's Yamato Dynasty breathlessly exposed
a plot in which stolen Pacific War gold has underwritten Japan's
postwar economic miracle. Stephenson's book is much more believable.
There are many versions of the tale, but the main elements are
pretty standard. Beginning in the late 1930s in Manchuria and
China, Japanese teams pillaged the countries they colonized,
stripping them of the most precious metals and jewels. Ultimately, this hoard was loaded onto a
Japanese ship, which sailed for the Philippines. The ship made land in the
Philippines, the story goes, and Yamashita hid the riches on the island of
Luzon in tunnels guarded by trip mines and gas canisters. After the war, the
Japanese are said to have funneled the gold back to Tokyo.
The legend ignores several facts. Yamashita was never a favorite of the military clique running the war. He was
cashiered by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. In 1944, after Tojo was removed, Yamashita was dispatched to the
Philippines. From December 1944 until he handed over his sword in September 1945, Yamashita had to relocate his headquarters at least six times, driven
ever deeper into the mountains and the jungles by devastating U.S.
air, land, and sea power. It's hard to see when he would have had time to
hide all that gold.
It makes a good yarnbut that may be all. "We heard
rumors, but we couldn't track any of them down," recalls
Kay Tateishi, stationed in the Philippines with the Japanese news
agency Domei in 1943-44. "As far as I know and the sources I
talked to, it was a lot of hogwash."