The world (and this blog) has spent a lot of time wondering about the Nazi treasure train, allegedly hidden somewhere in the mountains of Poland. But another rumored treasure of gold and jewels, one that also came out of World War II, dwarfs even the most fantastic expectations about all the remaining Nazi stolen treasure that may yet be hidden in mines or lost to the bottom of the ocean. To start our hunt for this massive treasure we must look to our second front in WWII, the war with Japan.
After shedding the last vestiges of the Samurai leadership after the mid-1850s, Japan embarked on a program to modernize its military. Much of that effort came after Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States Navy steamed into Tokyo Bay in 1853 and shelled the Japanese into accepting a treaty with the U.S. That incident shocked the Japanese into a long period of modernization and industrialization. By the early 1900s, Japan had grown into a formidable power in Asia, and when the empire started throwing its military weight around in the early 1900s, it was typically victorious, usually overwhelmingly. These victories led Japan to expand into areas rich in natural resources and the Japanese launched attacks aimed at Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Malaya. Of course, in that same push the Japanese finally overreached, attacking Pearl Harbor. You know the story from there.
As Japan’s empire grew, so did its treasury. When their army invaded a country, they stripped that nation’s wealth and used it to further Japan’s own industrialization and war efforts. But when World War II started to go badly for them, many in Japan’s leadership had a suspicion they were going to lose and allegedly hatched a plot to strip their own homeland of its treasures and hide them in the Philippines. It was long rumored that some of that recovered Japanese treasure was the source of the awesome wealth behind Ferdinand Marcos.
The task of hiding the treasure was given to Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, also known as “the Tiger of Malaya.” That’s how the hidden treasure got the name “Yamashita’s Gold” and the tale of its burial is both intriguing and horrifying. As the legend goes, several high level Japanese officials were in charge of tunneling and digging mines. In all 175 treasure sites were constructed, filled and sealed. Allegedly, the last of these mines were sealed with the engineers and workers still inside to insure that the treasure’s locations would stay secret. After that is when the story gets weird.
After the war it was rumored that Americans had discovered and seized at least some of the Japanese treasure. According to this account, the government and military decided to keep the seized treasure a secret, using the money to finance many aspects of the Cold War. If you believe some of the more spectacular tales, 170,000 tons of gold is still sitting in a vault in Hawaii. Were that true it would be a volume of gold greater than what’s been mined from the earth since the beginning of time. One also wonders where the government is hiding a facility that would need to be substantially larger than Fort Knox in Hawaii?
As far as the truth of it, we simply don’t know. It’s quite likely that the Japanese did indeed hide some of their war treasure in the rugged hills of the Philippines. As to whether the U.S. found some of that treasure after the war, that’s also quite possible. It was almost certainly not 170,000 tons of gold and there’s certainly no super-size Fort Knox hosting a luau in Hawaii. It’s likely at least some of that treasure has been discovered, though there are no official accounts of how much or where it ended up.
The rugged interior of the Philippines is still home to various rebel groups which makes looking for treasure in that jungle a risky enterprise. It’s also good to keep in mind that, toward the end of the war, the U.S. had complete mastery over the seas around Japan and at least some of the treasure was likely sunk en route by U.S. submarines and warplanes. Ooops.
For now the search goes on with at least a strong suspicion that much of Yamashita’s Gold is still buried in the hills of the Philippines jungle…and at least one stash will contain the gruesome remains of a handful of Japanese engineers and miners who were tragically a little too good at their jobs.