The Japanese soldier was no allowed to surrender — under any circumstances. Even badly wounded soldiers were not allowed to surrender. It was seen as shameful and not only dishonored the inividual, but his family as well.
To understand Japanese Imperial Army and it’s policy on surrender, you have to have an understanding of the series of guidelines called the “Senjinkun（戦陣訓）” issued in 1941.
Senjinkun was based on another set of guidelines issued by the Emperor to reject the fate of being a prisoner due to the cruel fate often suffered by them. This was written in 1894, prior to Geneva Convention. Senjinkun looked more like a code of behavior and was not meant to be a legally binding document. But in Imperial Japan where the military sat largely outside of civilian law, this set of guidelines based on the words of the ultimate Commander and Chief came to be treated as supreme military law. Senjinkun laid out in specific words, “do not suffer the indignation of becoming a prisoner.” Thus, being captured became synonymous with desertion.
While this document was Army issued, naval officers in a midget submarine captured in Pearl Harbor became widely known as cowards and stain on the imperial honor, and this kicked off the social rule that families of war prisoners were to be treated as family of criminals. Many prisoners of war were given rights to write back to their family in Japan by the captors but often declined, to save their family from persecution.
Side note: Japan signed but not ratified the Geneva Convention on the grounds that “since Japanese troops becoming prisoners of war was largely inconceivable, this treaty is an unfair treaty that only burdens Japan with legal obligation that does not mutually exist.”
How were captured Japanese soldiers treated back home in Japan for the first few years after the war?
It varied greatly depending on the family and the circumstances to which these men returned home. Some men came home to great fanfare, others returned home quietly and resumed with their lives. Some unfortunately though were ostracized by their family and peers. Here’s one good account that describes such a case.
Father Did Not Permit My Return Home
A half a century has passed since I received a red card draft notice and joined the military. To the villagers gathered at the train station at Yukuhashi, Fukuoka Prefecture, I pledged, “ I will die in battle protecting the Emperor by standing in front of his horse.” At the time my mother was bedridden. I left my parents and my job and devoted my entire youth to the defense of the Fatherland.
The fear, starvation and indignities of military life would have been unthinkable in normal situations. We had to endure this because of the supreme command, “Consider your superiors orders to be the direct orders of the Emperor,” which was included in the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers & Sailors. Because of this Emperor’s orders, many thousands of soldiers died at Guadalcanal, Saipan and Iwo Jima. Okinawa was devastated. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were blanketed with deadly ashes.
I was barely able to survive in North China. When I came back to Japan after the surrender, I was unable to go home. My late father was a leader in the village. He did not permit the return of his son who had been defeated in the war. . . .
Furumiya Toshio, 69 years old