July 27, 2011

Amazing Feats Of Simplicity: Shōichi Yokoi

Yokoi's Cave - 28 years in the jungles of Guam
Shōichi Yokoi became famous in 1972 for his amazing feats of simplicity and survival. The Japanese soldier was discovered living in the jungles of Guam, and had been there for 28 years, since the end of WWII. When found by hunters he was in remarkably good health, and still in hiding.

Yokoi had been living a life as austere as it can get since Americans liberated the island he was on almost three decades earlier. He and two other soldiers survived in the jungles by living with nature in extreme simplicity.

Yokoi lived by building a cave-like underground dwelling. A tailor in his civilian days before the war, he fashioned clothing in the jungle out of tree bark. He hunted small mammals at night, and ate a variety of jungle vegetation.

One can only imagine the struggle, fear, and loneliness that the soldier must have experienced at times. But perhaps there was something about this stripped down life that appealed to Yokoi. It is said that he knew for 20 years that the war was over, but preferred to stay in the jungle.

When Yokoi was finally discovered and taken home, he was walloped by major culture shock. He was vaulted from his extreme simplicity into a fast-paced, commercialized, and affluent Japanese society. Things had changed a great deal since he left at the beginning of the war. He found adjusting difficult.

To Yokoi, the material excesses he saw were alarming. He devoted himself to spreading the word on the value of a more austere life, something he would have been an expert on. He launched into a series of lectures on the topic.

I am not sure how his message was received by the Japanese, but I am definitely inspired by Yokoi, and people like him, who manage amazing feats of simplicity. They remind me that there is a lot of superfluous fluff that can be jettisoned in our quest for a simpler, more satisfying life.

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