Hiroo Onoda, a weary Japanese intelligence officer, emerged from the Philippine jungle. He had fought the war for so very long. He had obeyed his superior officer’s orders: don’t surrender, don’t kill yourself, and spy on the Americans. He had done his duty faithfully, and he only surrendered when his commanding officer returned to find him and tell him that the war, World War 2, was over. Japan had surrendered in 1945.
After 30 years of fighting a guerrilla war, waiting to be relieved of duty, Hiroo Onoda surrendered. It was 1974. Onoda was 52 years old.
How the surrender came about is an interesting story.
However, I’m more interested in what Onoda did after he came out of the jungle. The Japan he returned to was markedly different from the one he had left; he was troubled by the changes, the loss of the old Japanese virtues that he cherished. Quite simply, he didn’t fit in. So he moved to Brazil, where there was a large Japanese expatriate community. Onoda started a cattle ranch and did well for himself. He married and became a leading figure in the community.
And then his story takes an unusual twist.
In the early 1980s, a now 60-ish year old Hiroo Onoda read an article about a Japanese teenager who murdered his parents. He felt deeply troubled for his homeland. He decided he had to do something. He had to return to Japan.
In 1984, Onoda opened the Onoda Nature School, a multi-site educational program for children, using outdoor experience to teach survival skills and traditional Japanese values. He found a way to apply the lessons he had learned: teach the next generation. “I don’t consider those 30 years a waste of time,” Onoda said in 1995. “Without that experience, I wouldn’t have my life today.”
There’s the spirit.
I wrote earlier about the idea of “reintegration” – discerning your present calling by considering it an extension and creative application of your previous life experiences. It seems that Hiroo Onoda gives us a stellar example of this kind of thinking.
So that leaves the question open: how will you build upon those hard experiences of the past?
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