Nestled in the vibrant city of Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, the Lobang Jepang or Lubang Jepang (which translates to ‘Japanese tunnel’ in Indonesian) stands as a testament to the city’s rich history and the resilience of its people. This underground military complex, now a prominent historical tourist attraction, offers visitors a unique glimpse into the past.
A Historical Marvel
Constructed around 1942 by the Japanese occupying army, the tunnel was built for defense purposes and was fully completed by June 1944. The tunnel’s inception was during World War II when the Japanese forces felt the pressure from the Allied forces. As a result, they began constructing numerous hiding tunnels across the then Dutch East Indies, including in cities like Bandung and Biak.
The tunnel in Bukittinggi was constructed under the instructions of Lieutenant General Moritake Tanabe, Commander in Chief of the 25th Army of the Japanese Army. Its primary purpose was to serve as a storage facility for supplies and equipment vital for Japanese warfare. The tunnel boasts various rooms, including a reconnaissance room, ambush room, prison, and arsenal.
The Dark Secrets of the Tunnel
The construction of the tunnel came at a significant human cost. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of forced laborers, or romusha, were mobilized from various islands, including Java, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. The Japanese strategically selected labor from outside Bukittinggi to maintain the secrecy of this mega project. Tragically, thousands of these workers lost their lives during the tunnel’s construction.
One of the most chilling aspects of the tunnel is its kitchen room. While it was used for cooking, it also served a more sinister purpose. Dead prisoners were chopped up and disposed of through a water hole. The kitchen also houses a concrete table, believed to have been used for executing prisoners.
A Modern-Day Attraction
Today, the Japanese tunnels are managed as historical attractions by the Bukittinggi city government. While the tunnel stretches up to 8 km, only 1.5 kilometers are accessible to tourists. The tunnel’s winding paths, with a width of about 2 meters and a depth of 49 meters below ground, lead to various rooms, each with its unique history.
Visitors can enter the tunnel from various points, including the Sianok Gorge area, Panorama Park, next to the Bung Hatta Palace, and the Bukittinggi Zoo. As you walk through the dimly lit corridors, you can almost feel the weight of history pressing down on you.
Lobang Jepang is not just a tunnel; it’s a journey through time. It serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by countless individuals during a tumultuous period in history. If you ever find yourself in Bukittinggi, make sure to visit this historical marvel and pay your respects to those who lost their lives.