Yamashita’s Treasure – The Twisted Tale of WW2 Gold

Pile of gold stolen by general Yamishita

The tale of Yamashita’s Treasure begins with Japan’s plundering of its neighbors before and during World War II.

As the Germans did in Europe, the Japanese squeezed vast fortunes from their Asian domain, creating a river of riches flowing toward the homeland.

The Japanese government intended that loot pilfered from Southeast Asia would be used to finance their war effort.

This was not the haphazard looting of a rampaging army – it was a highly organized effort – perpetrated on a massive scale by some of Japan’s most prominent citizens; allegedly including Emperor Hirohito and yakuza gangsters such as Yoshio Kodama.

Emperor Hirohito appointed his brother, Prince Yasuhito Chichibu, to head a secret organization called Kin No Yuri or “Golden Lily“, to organize the looting.

Prince Yasuhito Chichibu – Leader of The Golden Lilly

Golden Lily teams systematically emptied treasuries, banks, factories, private homes, temples, churches, mosques, museums pawnshops, and art galleries, and stripped ordinary people of what little they had, while Japan’s top gangsters looted Asia’s underworld and its black economy.

The stolen property reportedly included gems, golden Buddhas, coins, and precious metals of immense value.

Yamashita’s Treasure Route

Not since the Spanish conquered the Incan Empire in 1532 had the world seen such an aggressive looting campaign.

This sort of enterprise took careful planning and an established network to transport the loot safely and efficiently back to the Japanese homeland.

The hub of the Golden Lilly’s looting network was the Philippine island of Luzon – it’s strategic location and proximity to Japan made it a natural and necessary trans-shipment point.

Map of Yamashitas Plunder route

During the early days of the war, the looting network functioned as planned – treasures from all over South East Asia arrived in the Philippines daily – the loot was then transferred to freighters for the trip back to Japan.

But toward the end of World War II. The Allies were gaining control of the Pacific, making it increasingly difficult for the Japanese to transport the stolen treasure.

Allied submarines and aircraft took a heavy toll on Japan’s shipping; some of the ships carrying loot to Japan were sunk.

So, instead of shipping the treasure back to Japan, Golden Lilly operatives began hiding the loot in caves and underground complexes throughout the Philippines.

The Japanese believed that when the war ended they would be able to keep the Philippine Islands as a concession for peace. They would then be able to dig up the vast wealth hidden there to rebuild their failing empire.

Arriving in the midst of this frenzied activity was the Philippines’ new military governor, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, “the Tiger of Malaya” – a nickname he had won by conquering that complacent and ill-defended British colony.

As the Allied forces closed in, General Yamashita kicked the treasure concealment campaign into high gear.

Yamashita dug massive tunnels in the mountains outside Manila, some to depths of hundreds of feet, leading to the final ‘storage chambers’.

Many of these tunnels were excavated just below the water table during the dry season, which meant that they would eventually fill with water – a deterrent to any future salvagers.

And if that weren’t enough, most if not all of the tunnels were booby-trapped with 1,000 and 2,000 lb bombs and poisonous gas.

Allied Prisoners were used to dig the intricate tunnel systems and once the gold was safely stashed in the pits, the POWs were executed and buried along with the treasures.

In rare cases, Japanese officers even had their own soldiers killed and buried along with the treasure, to protect the secret locations.

Yamashita also blasted caves in coral reefs and sank entire shiploads of valuables in the sea around the islands.

America Invades the Philippines

But in the end all this hard work was for nothing – the Americans invaded the Philippines in October 1944.

When the Allied forces landed on Luzon much of Yamashita’s treasure still had not been hidden, so the General loaded the remaining loot on trucks and took it with him as the Imperial army retreated across the island.

Japanese and American Troop positions on Luzon Island – Philippines 1945.

Legend says that as Yamashita fled, he broke the treasure into many smaller stashes that were hidden along the line of his retreat, the bulk of the stashes are said to be concentrated in the mountainous area where Yamashita made his last stand against the invading US troops.

Many of the Japanese soldiers who knew the locations of the loot were killed during that final battle.

Yamashita eventually surrendered on September 2, 1945. He was eventually tried by an American military tribunal and found guilty of war crimes relating to his role in the Manila Massacre.

Tomoyuki  Yamashita was sentenced to death and was hanged on February 23, 1946, at Los Baños Prison Camp. Yamashita’s chief of staff in the Philippines, Akira Mutō, was also executed.

Neither of them ever revealed the location of the various treasures caches.

General Yamashita after hearing his death sentence.
General Tomoyuki  Yamashita after hearing his death sentence.

Where is Yamashita’s Treasure Now?

According to popular lore, there are said to be 172 documented, official Japanese imperial burial sites (138 on land and 34 in deliberately scuttled ships), not to mention the numerous instances of loot buried by greedy officers and renegade Japanese soldiers.

The worth of all this booty is estimated to be as much as $3 billion at 1940 rates – the equivalent of over $100 billion today.

According to various post-war estimates, the gold bullion alone totals 4,000 to 6,000 tons!

So what happened to all this gold?

Many Yamashita researchers believe that a portion of the treasure has already been recovered by various parties in the sixty years since Yamashita’s execution.

A great many facts have been accumulated, maps have been found, witnesses have sworn their testimonies, but the truth remains shrouded in mystery and lies.

The more credible and well-researched rumors of recovery are listed below:

American Clandestine Operation

The first rumor reads like a Tom Clancy Novel. It’s said that, in October 1945, American intelligence agents learned where some of the Japanese loot was hidden.

Agents of the O.S.S. (forerunner of the CIA) watched as Japanese troops buried treasure on the island of Luzon and once the Japanese were defeated they began a clandestine recovery operation that lasted until 1948.

There were important reasons for all this secrecy.

If the recovery of this huge mass of stolen gold became public knowledge, the countries and individuals that had been plundered could not lay claim to it; and the OSS/CIA had no intention of returning any of the plunder to its rightful owners.

Instead, they set up numerous front companies to launder the secretly recovered gold bullion.

This is supposed to have become the basis of the CIA’s ‘off the books’ operational funds during the immediate post-war years, used to create a world-wide anti-Communist network.

General William Donovan, head of the O.S.S., supposedly knew of the gold recoveries, as did General Douglas MacArthur, and former US presidents Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman.

Marcos’ Gold

President/Dictator Marcos and his ex beauty queen wife, Imelda Marcos
Dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his ex beauty queen wife, Imelda Marcos

Perhaps the most credible rumor of recovery involves a young, up and coming Filipino politician named Ferdinand Marcos – who became successively a congressman, senator, president, and finally dictator of the Philippine islands.

It was rumored that Marco’s rise in politics was financed in part by Yamashita’s hoard.

One of many stories about Marcos places him with a party of Japanese soldiers who hid gold in a tunnel at the end of the war.

Then sometime in the mid-1960’s, he recovered $8 billion from a tunnel known as “Teresa 2”, which was located 38 miles south of Manila, in the Rizal province.

An interesting fact about Marcos is that he was the leader of the Ang Maharlika guerrilla force in northern Luzon during World War II.

This would have put him in the center of the action as the Japanese made their final stand against Allied forces.

Whether the dictator ever found Yamashita’s gold is pure speculation – but it’s a well-documented fact that he searched diligently, freely using his presidential powers and the nation’s armed forces in the hunt.

When he declared martial law in 1972, Marcos took full advantage of the clout it conferred to step up his treasure-hunting efforts.

In 1975, Marcos awarded himself a monopoly on underwater recovery efforts, decreeing that all future salvage operations in Philippine waters would require his personal approval.

From time to time, scraps of information leaked from Marcos’s inner circle indicating that the dictator did indeed find some sort of treasure.

In the 1970s, Marcos hired an American, Robert Curtis, to search for the hidden treasure and remelt gold bullion to conceal its origins.

Curtis later told of seeing bars of gold “stacked from floor to ceiling” in one of the dictator’s provincial palaces. “The ingots”, he said, “were of a distinctive shape used around the time of World War II”.

Marcos was eventually overthrown in 1986.

It was reported that when he fled the country, U.S. Customs agents discovered 24 suitcases of gold bricks and diamond jewelry hidden in diaper bags.

In addition, certificates for gold bullion valued in the billions of dollars were allegedly among the personal properties he, his family, his cronies, and business partners had surreptitiously taken with them when U.S. President Ronald Reagan provided them all safe passage to Hawaii.

Rogelio Roxas Golden Buddha

Rogelio Roxas Golden Buddha allegedly stolen by President Marcos

Rogelio Roxas, a Filipino locksmith, claims to have found a one-ton, solid-gold Buddha and thousands of gold bars in a tunnel near Baguio in 1971, only to have them stolen by President Ferdinand Marcos.

Roxas claimed that the Buddha he found had been solid gold with a cavity in the removable head that contained dozens of priceless diamonds.

In 1986 Roxas sued the Marcos estate for damages but died from poisoning on the very day he was set to testify.

Hummm, just little suspicion? A US court thought so.

In 1996, after the deaths of both Marcos and Roxas, a court in Hawaii awarded Roxas’ heirs a judgment of $43 BILLION dollars against the Marcos estate.

So far the heirs have not received a cent. I guess Imelda needs all that money for her infamous shoe collection!

Is Yamashita’s Treasure Real?

Even with the recent judgment in favor of Roxas, and the piles of supporting evidence presented in books like Gold Warriors, there are still many skeptics who believe Yamashita’s treasure doesn’t exist.

Like the legendary Treasure of the Knights Templar, the Oak Island Money Pit or the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, skeptics believe that the tales of buried World War II Gold are simply figments of greedy treasure hunters imaginations.

A history professor from the University of the Philippines named Ricardo Jose states that…

By 1943 the Japanese were no longer in control of the seas… It doesn’t make sense to bring in something that valuable here when you know it’s going to be lost to the Americans anyway. The more rational thing would have been to send it to Taiwan or China.

Ricardo Jose – University of the Philippines

Ambeth Ocampo from the Philippines National Historical Institute is another well known Yamashita skeptic. Here’s what he has to say on the subject of Yamashita’s treasure…

For the past 50 years, many people, both Filipinos and foreigners, have spent their time, money and energy in search of Yamashita’s elusive treasure. Despite all the treasure hunters, their maps, oral testimony and sophisticated metal detectors, nobody has found a thing.

Ambeth Ocampo

Of course, these 2 are academics and are scared to death of being mocked for believing in myths and legends.

My personal opinion is that there is just too much compelling evidence to ignore.

While Roxas is the only documented case of a treasure cache that can be linked directly to Yamashita’s wartime stashes there could well be numerous other cases that have gone unreported.

Imagine you are a dirt-poor Filipino farmer who works his ass off for $5 dollars US a day. What would you do if you found a stash of gold bars in your backyard?

The official government policy of the Philippines is to reward any treasures found with between 25-70 percent of the value of the treasure (depending on where the treasure is dug up). 

But political and police corruption in the Philippines is epic, and anyone who lives there knows that the chances of seeing any of that reward would be bleak at best.

So, most likely any Yamashita treasure discoveries have gone unreported.

Intriguing Hints From Imelda Marcos

Imelda Marcos with priceless art collection

One of the most compelling arguments for the existence of Yamashita’s treasure is the 1992 confession of Imelda Marcos, the ex First Lady of the Philippines, that the bulk of her late husband’s fortune came from hidden WW2 Gold.

Allegedly, she told several high ranking government officials that she was going to pay off the Philippine’s foreign debts by handing over 7000 pounds of gold bars (worth 300 billion). 

The current President of the Philippine, Rodrigo Duterte, a firm supporter of the Marcos family, even seems to be involved in the negotiations for the return of the gold bars.

Gold bars that Imelda Marcos will allegedly return to Philippines

Searching for Yamashita’s Gold!

To this day, not one “officially accepted” Yamashita find has been documented. But despite all the disappointments and dead-ends, fortune hunters remain undaunted.

Many individuals and consortia, both Filipino and foreign, continue to search for treasure sites.

If you want to launch your own hunt for Yamashita’s Lost Gold, here are a few ideas to get you started:

Researching the Treasure

Peggy and Sterling Seagrave’s book, Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (2003), Is one of the best written on the subject and a great place to start your research on this fascinating tale.

The initial edition comes with CD-ROMs containing 900 megabytes of documents, maps, and photographs.

Dangers You May Face

Dozens have died digging up roads, riverbeds, and mountainsides in a relentless pursuit of Yamashita’s gold.

For example, in late 2000, two men were buried alive when a tunnel collapsed near the Mindanao town of General Santos after they had dug as far as 24 feet.

Four others suffocated in Lumban, Laguna. And in 1998, three men were killed in Nueva Ecija in Luzon province when a tunnel they had dug caved in.

Con Men

Dubious map to Yamashita treasure location

As many of these recovery projects have ended in failure, a side industry has emerged based on the fever itself.

Foreign investors are often enticed into funding the digging of holes known to contain nothing or sold “treasure maps” of questionable origin –  such as the one above.

Sharing With The Man

The Philippine government has some pretty strict, and well-enforced guidelines for would-be treasure hunters operating in their territories.

Many expeditions have been escorted by the Philippine Military, who stand guard night and day to make sure that the government gets their fair share of the treasure – which is listed below:

  • For Treasure Hunting within Public Lands – Seventy-five percent(75%) to the Government and twenty-five (25%) to the Permit Holder.
  • For Treasure Hunting in Private Lands – Thirty Percent (30%) to the Government and Seventy Percent (70%) to be shared by the Permit Holder and the landowner.
  • For Shipwreck/Sunken Vessel Recovery – Fifty percent (50%) to the Government and Fifty percent (50%) to the Permit Holder.”


There are a lot of people leaving comments below about having found markers or maps that they believe are related to Yamashita’s Gold.  

The Owners and editors of this site in NO WAY endorse any of these claims. In fact, we are pretty sure that many of them are scams concocted to try and separate people from their money.

But since we have no way of knowing which comments are genuine and which are scams – we just publish any that sound remotely authentic as we don’t believe in comment censorship.

So, if you contact any of these commentors do it at your own risk, and if you decide to invest in any recovery efforts, please do your due diligence!

About the Author

CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
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