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Yamashita's Gold: Enormous War Treasure Hoard Remains Elusive

Yamashita's Gold: Enormous War Treasure Hoard Remains Elusive

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Yamashita’s Gold (known also as Yamashita’s Treasure) is the name given to the alleged war loot accumulated by the Japanese armed forces in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. This alleged war loot is named after General Yamashita Tomoyuki, who was nicknamed the ‘Tiger of Malaya’. Yamashita’s Gold is often said to be hidden somewhere in the Philippines, and many treasure hunters have attempted to find it. Until today, however, this elusive treasure has yet to be found, and some have even dismissed its very existence.

Tomoyuki Yamashita, 1945

Tomoyuki Yamashita, 1945 (Public Domain)

During the Second World War, the Empire of Japan had succeeded in occupying much of Southeast Asia. It has been claimed that a secret organization known as the ‘Golden Lily’ was created following Japan’s declaration of war on China in December 1937. This organization is said to be headed by Prince Chichibu, the younger brother of Emperor Hirohito, and its sole purpose was the looting of occupied territories. In the case of Southeast Asia, the war booty would then be transported back to Japan, with the Philippines as a layover spot, where they were supposed to have been loaded onto ships for the last part of the journey.

Prince Chichibu in his twenties, as a second lieutenant

Prince Chichibu in his twenties, as a second lieutenant (Public Domain)

On the 7 th of December 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, leading to the entry of the United States into the Second World War. Although the Japanese were militarily successful during the early part of the war, they were beginning to suffer defeats by May 1942, which meant that they were beginning to lose ground to the Americans. Additionally, the Americans also began sinking a number of Japanese ships, thus making any transfer of war booty back to Japan a risky business.

It is claimed that, as a result of these factors, the decision was made to have the war booty hidden, so as to ensure that it did not fall into the hands of the approaching Americans. Tunnels began to be dug by both Japanese soldiers and prisoners of war, and the caves at the end of them filled with valuable objects. Once this was done, the entrances were covered up by exploding bombs at the openings, leaving the diggers to die inside. This was to ensure that the treasures’ locations remained a secret, and that only very few people had knowledge of them.

Over the decades, many treasure hunters have attempted to find Yamashita’s Gold, and there are various speculations as to its fate. For example, one theory claims that the treasure was gathered by Severino Diaz Garcia Santa Romana, an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent. It has been alleged that this war booty was combined with stolen Nazi treasure to form a slush fund called the ‘Black Eagle Trust’.

Others, however, are still hopeful that the treasure remains hidden somewhere in the Philippines. Perhaps one of the best known stories to keep this flame of hope burning is that of Rogelio Roxas, locksmith / poor farmer / head of a treasure hunting expedition, who found a solid gold statue of the Buddha. The precious artefact was confiscated by the late Ferdinand Marcos, a former President of the Philippines. A lawsuit was filed in the US, which was won by Roxas, though, he, unfortunately, was tortured and died under suspicious circumstances.

There are others, on the other hand, are less certain about the existence of Yamashita’s Gold, or at least that the amount is not as great as the stories claim. Another interpretation of Yamashita’s Gold, as well as other treasure stories from the Philippines, is that it is a story that ought to be taken literally, but figuratively. For example, such stories may be taken to mean that the nation has much potential / talent that has yet been discovered, and is waiting to be found and utilized. Thus, in a way, such stories serve to boost the morale of the nation.

Top image: Gold (Public Domain), General Tomoyuki Yamashita (Public Domain)

By Wu Mingren


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dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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