Historically, Japan’s military started making maps as early as 1870, and most of these were detailed graphs of neighboring countries with key importance to Japanese interests, particularly Korea and China. This was part of the intention to be recognized as a military power and with the clout to control lands or create colonies within reach or adjacent to her territory.
Japan’s economic foothold in Davao following its successful control of the hemp industry in the first half of the 20th century became an incentive to pursue her country’s military agenda. Though disputed, the influx of Japanese nationals to Davao disguised as plantation workers was not lost among Filipino intelligence eavesdroppers.
The breakout of war, as expected, eviscerated some of Japan’s military secrets that were covertly known to member-countries in the Allied circle. Some of the information were subject to confirmation. A report (’20,000 Japanese at Davao for Fifth Column, Ranks‘) in The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia) on December 27, 1941, was interesting:
In and around this [Davao] port. which the Japanese now claim to have captured, live 20,000 Japanese. Mindanao is one of the richest of the Philippine Islands. Although the Americans have an aerodrome and naval base in Davao, the Japanese have their own schools and hospitals, and police the outlying districts… They even have their own Consul…
Several years ago, it was rumoured that the Japanese had fortified Mount Apo and that they were smuggling in arms and ammunition. – It also was believed that they had a tunnel five miles long under the hemp plantations leading to a secret arsenal where, ammunition was manufactured.
Considerable fifth column activity at Davao since the war begun seems to bear out these reports of intense Japanese preparation. (Italics mine.)
The same report claimed that in prewar times “large deposits of chromium, invaluable to armament makers, were found” but did not specifically identify the location in the country. Accordingly, the “iron ore [was] the best in the East and [was] needed desperately by Japan.” Nothing concrete came out of this account, which was sourced from raw data.
But the most interesting account (‘Japs Stole Davao Before War‘) came out in the January 4, 1942, issue of The Sun, published in Sydney, Australia, which reported:
Americans discovered maps and specifications of Davao’s defences hidden in a corpse being shipped back to Japan.
Japan’s undisguised peacetime stealing of Philippine areas is illustrated by this incident told by a young American now in Sydney after living most of his life in the Philippines.
A Japanese at Davao had died. Instead of cremating the body and returning the ashes to the homeland (the universal custom), the Japs were to send the body back untouched.
A suspicious American arranged an autopsy, which revealed maps and specifications of the town’s defences concealed in the corpse…
As the Jap colony grew, more arms were smuggled in —machine-guns, Tommy guns, grenades, small arms, and ammunition coming in coffins. Japanese warehouses became arsenals.
Factories were built, many with 6 ft. reinforced concrete walls— admirable fortresses.
While the story sounded fantastic, this has never been officially confirmed. There’s a strong possibility, though, the report has basis. Dispatching dead bodies in tightly sealed aluminum casket was a preferred way of bringing home cadavers to loved ones in a foreign land. This was the case of Lt. Edward Bolton, American district governor of Davao who was killed in 1906.
Japan’s hidden war agenda, though continuously debated by scholars, has been extensively discussed in articles published in prestigious publications. In the July 2016 issue of National Geographic, Greg Miller wrote (‘Secret Japanese Military Maps Could Open a New Window on Asia’s Past ‘) about the maps recovered by the United States after the war.
The secret military diagrams and plates, numbering in the thousands, were confiscated by the American soldiers, and covered nearly all of Asia. Miller wrote:
[The maps] went far beyond the local topography. They included detailed notes on climate, transportation systems, and the local people. It’s the kind of information that could be used to plan an invasion or an occupation, and some of it was gathered by spies operating behind enemy lines. To the Japanese, these maps are known as gaihōzu—maps of outer lands.”
To the Americans, they were a valuable source of intelligence, not just on a recently defeated foe, but also on a newly emerging one—the Soviet Union.
Though some of the maps are still hidden, kept for decades for safekeeping and almost forgotten, are now in the hands of scholars for further studies. Their existence undeniably confirms the long-term plan of Japan to include the Philippines, particularly Davao, as future colonies of the land of the Rising Sun.