Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Japanese Tunnel - Enthralling Piece From Davao's Dark Past

Story goes: Way before the invasion of the Japanese in the Philippines in 1941, there were itinerant Japanese forces who successfully found their way on the shores of east Mindanao in 1934 - seven years before the obloquious occupation. They turned the locals they met into slaves who were then forced to dig out tunnels not dissimilar to the Cu Chi Tunnels of Vietnam (extensively constructed in 1968). When the Japanese soldiers left the islands in the mid-forties, this tunnel was abandoned. This crawlway, far more spacious than Vietnam's, has (obviously) stood the test of time.

The area was owned by the Lims, a Filipino-Chinese family (the owners of RDL Beauty/Whitening Products) who has since branched out into beauty products and hotels. They eventually considered building another hotel in the area; one that would attract tourists, and what better come-on than an authentic pre-war tunnel, right?

After several preparative measures, the Japanese Tunnel was opened to public in 2001. With an affordable entrance fee of P50, who would want to miss a visit? A ticket will get you a short tour with an annotating guide. This tour is actually a short one considering the length of the available tunnel - 150 meters!

According to the guide, the cave stretches 800 meters eastward, but visitors are allowed to visit 150 meters because of an earthquake in 2010 that caused the caving in of some portions of the cave. The height of the "cave" (tunnel) starts with 9 feet then as you head further east slopes down into 5 feet. Sometime in the late afternoon way into the night, the tunnel gets filled with fog (which we saw at 2 PM). It can get smoldering when the sun is up, thus ventilation is provided inside as well as adequate lighting. The floor is mostly even, but some portions could get slippery as water actually seeps from the earthen ceiling.

Compared to the Cu Chi Tunnels, these tunnels here are a ballroom. There are side tributaries: one has a replica of a Golden Buddha statue where gold bullion used to thrive (supposedly a few of Yamashita's displaced riches); there's a prison cell with too narrow concavity, I would hardly fit inside - but was said to house 3-4 "comfort" women; a "wishing cave" of sorts where coins are seen scattered on the floor. But why would I wish on a cave? Curiously, a lot have wished on it. There's another tributary with a table and statues of two Japanese soldiers sitting in front of each other, while another soldier is standing guard nearby.

There are no stalactites and stalagmites here because manpower dug this tunnel; this isn't a cave. But there are birds - swallows and swifts - living at the ridges of the ceiling.

"We harvest saliva of these birds and use them as delicacy at our restaurant," informed the guide.

True enough, bird's saliva is used for building nests (they're thick and they dry quickly). More importantly, they are used as culinary ingredients. They're supposedly prestigious and very expensive. Bird's Nest soup is in fact one of my all-time favorites.

There is a flowing stream at the side of the tunnels. This cold stream comes from Mount Apo and drains into a 30-foot well located midway into the cave.


The guide informed me that the remaining 650 meters of the tunnel is being "developed" into a museum. It is scheduled for opening this August 2013. To be quite honest, I have reservations about the early part of annotated history: Japanese forces in Davao in 1934?

During that time, US President Roosevelt just signed the Tydings-McDuffie Law which underlined the independence of the Philippines from the Americans. Meanwhile, the Japanese were reeling from a typhoon. They were also dealing with a political scandal involving manipulations of stocks and the market that eventually brought down the administration of Prime Minister Makoto - called Teijin Incident! An invasion at that timeline is probably farthest from their minds. Thus - an early "invasion" is highly unlikely. Someone sure had a flair for fictionalized drama. Why? If you look at the label just outside the tunnel (by the swimming pool), the sign actually says 1942, not 1934. The guides might as well fine tune their own history, right?

If the tunnel doesn't satisfy you, the compound has a fine dining restaurant, a hotel and a swimming pool (P100/person or 1 free ticket for every purchase of P1,000 from the restaurant/bar). We sampled their food, but we'll have that on our next post.

D' Japanese Tunnel Family Resort and Restaurant is located at the Diversion Road (the road to the airport), officially called Balusong Extension, Hilcrest Subdivision in the district of Matina. For reservations, call 299-0975 or 295-0678 to 79. Visit their Facebook page at The tunnel is open from 9 AM to 8 PM. Please direct your queries to the aforementioned numbers. I am NOT in anyway associated with this establishment.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Entrance at the mouth of the tunnel.

Swallows and their nests at the tunnel ceiling.

30-foot well (left)
This area houses a replica of the Golden Buddha and its bullions of gold bars.

In a huddle.

A concavity became prison for (supposedly) 3 to 4 "comfort" women.

Nope, that's not my camera. It's a foggy area.

A wishing cell. People drop coins and make wishes here, which is odd. There's nothing vaguely poetic or dramatic to turn it into a magical lamp of wishes.

People wish anyway. Notice the coins on the ground.

Soldier guards over the coins.

A soldier counts the coins (above and below).

Same way out (above and below).

Entrance to the Japanese tunnel. At the background is the hotel.

It says 1942, not 1934.

Gap Farming Resort nearby also has its own swimming pool and Japanese Tunnel. Entrance is a measly PhP40. Check out the place here:


NRIGirl said...

Ah! Finally you have opened up the comments. Thank you! It kind of felt suffocating without that.

Interesting to read about the tunnel; and bird nest soup. I would have never associated it to the birds' saliva.

Have to admit didn't quite follow the 1942 vs. 1934 part of the story. It's not your fault; you see history is the most difficult subject for me...

Freedom said...

It really looks empty, not too touristy, but yet interesting. Did you make a wish?

eye in the sky said...

@ NRIGirls:

Didn't think it would have a "suffocating" effect, but it wasn't meant; sorry for that. Great to hear from you though. :)

Re: 1942 vs. 1934 - my point was that the tour guide was trying to "embellish" that part of history.

The Japanese invaded and pilfered and abused most of the territory in 1941/42 - every Pinoys know that - so "retelling" it with a timeline that dates 8 years prior to the traumatic occupations of the Japanese is erroneous, given the state that Japan was in in 1934. :)

eye in the sky said...

@ Nat:

No, I didn't make a wish. To be honest, I felt it was ridiculous to wish on a cave/cellar. each his own. :)