TOKYO - Hiroo Onoda, 91, the last Japanese imperial soldier to emerge from hiding in a jungle in the Philippines and surrender, 29 years after the end of World War II, died Thursday at a Tokyo hospital after a brief stay there.
Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Friday expressed his condolences, praising Mr. Onoda for his strong will to live and indomitable spirit.
"After World War II, Mr. Onoda lived in the jungle for many years and when he returned to Japan, I felt that finally, the war was finished. That's how I felt," Suga said.
Mr. Onoda was an intelligence officer who came out of hiding, erect but emaciated on Lubang island in the Philippines in March 1974, on his 52d birthday. He surrendered only when his former commander flew there to reverse his 1945 orders to stay behind and spy on U.S. troops.
Mr. Onoda and another World War II holdout, Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi, who emerged from the jungle in 1972, received massive heroes' welcomes upon returning home.
Mr. Onoda refused to give up, despite at least four searches during which family members appealed to him over loudspeakers and flights dropped leaflets urging him to surrender.
In his formal surrender to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Mr. Onoda wore his 30-year-old uniform, cap and sword, all still in good condition.
In December 1944, he was sent to Lubang, 90 miles southwest of Manila. Most other Japanese soldiers surrendered when U.S. troops landed on Lubang in February 1945, though hundreds remained missing for years.
As he struggled to feed himself, Mr. Onoda's mission became one of survival. He stole rice and bananas from local people down the hill, and shot their cows to make dried beef, triggering occasional skirmishes.
The turning point came on Feb. 20, 1974, when he met a young globe-trotter, Norio Suzuki, who ventured to Lubang in pursuit of Mr. Onoda.
Suzuki pitched camp in jungle clearings and waited. Mr. Onoda eventually began speaking with him.
Suzuki returned to Japan and contacted the government, which located Mr. Onoda's superior - Maj. Yoshimi Taniguchi - and flew him to Lubang to deliver his surrender order in person.