Travel to Bukittinggi City (Part 2) – Tracing the Dark History of Japanese Colonialism in Bukittinggi

The practice of colonialism carried out by the Dutch with a prescription that favored one-sidedly gave birth to inequality that made it difficult for the lives of the people in the archipelago. This gave rise to various reactions of community resistance in each region with the spirit of expelling the invaders. The anti-Western colonialism attitude did not only come from Indonesia, but also from the Japanese people who felt colonized by western imperialism. This phenomenon provided an opportunity for Japan to launch propaganda promising the prosperity of Greater East Asia. As a power in Asia at that time Japan succeeded in conquering China (1891), Russia (1904), and Manchuria (1941).
With the spirit of the Meiji Restoration in developing power, Japan intends to control the islands of southern Asia which are rich in natural resources. This strategy was carried out by Japan to provide food and fuel for its troops. In addition to Malaya, Indonesia is an area that wants to be controlled. The beginning of Japanese encounter with Indonesia began with the arrival of this nation to Tarakan (Borneo) on January 12, 1942. The Japanese troops who landed in Tarakan at that time came from Davao (Philippines) with a mission to seize oil and rubber resources. Between January and February 1942 the Japanese army succeeded in capturing Balikpapan, Banjarmasin, Kendari, Ujung Pandang, and others, while the 25th army captured Sumatra.
The period of Japanese occupation in Bukittinggi was marked by the occupation of Sumatra by the Japanese army. Where at the beginning of its occupation, Sumatra was administratively united with Malaya, under the supervision of the 25th Army. March 17, 1942, was the base of the Japanese Occupation in Bukittinggi and Padang. The city of Bukittinggi changed its name to “Si Yaku Sho” and the area was expanded to include villages such as Sianok, Gadut, Kapau, Ampang Gadang, Batu Taba, and Bukit Batabuah. At present these areas are within the scope of Agam Regency. In this case, the city of Bukittinggi is considered strategic because of the topography of hills and valleys. The hills within Bukittinggi city include Ambacang Hill, Tambun Tulang Hill, Mandiangin Hill, Campago Hill, Kubangankabau Hill, Pinang Nan Sabatang Hill, Canggang Hill, Paninjauan Hill, and so on.
On May 1, 1943, Sumatra was separated from Malaya, because Japan wanted to pay special attention to the Sumatran area which was considered very important from an economic and military defense point of view. Because at that time the Allied troops had counterattacked which made Japan press. The city of Bukittinggi, which was originally the mother of life, became the center of Japan’s escape from allied air attacks. The Japanese built a very long and winding underground tunnel called the Japanese Tunnel (Lubang Jepang) as a defense base. In its time, this cultural heritage object with inventory number 02/BCB-TB/A/02/2007 contributed to supporting the defense interests of the Japanese soldiers who fought in World War II and the Greater East Asia War (Dai Tora Sensos). This tunnel was built based on the instructions of General Watanabe, Commander of the Japanese Army Defense in Sumatra, based in Bukittinggi City.
The Japanese Tunnel is located in Bukittinggi Panorama Park to the right of the entrance. The location of Panorama Park is right across from the Tri Daya Eka Darma Struggle Museum in Bukittinggi City. Panorama Park is included in the Sianok Canyon (Ngarai Sianok) – Maninjau Geopark area. Administratively, Sianok Canyon belongs to Bukittinggi City and Agam Regency. It has a depth varying between 75 – 110 meters and stretches for 15 km with a width of about 200 m. It is part of the fault that separates the island of Sumatra into two longitudinal sections. Locals call it the Watermelon Fault (Patahan Semangka). This fault forms a steep wall that is even perpendicular to form a green valley. Visitors can see the beautiful view of the bottom of the Sianok canyon from Panorama Park. At the bottom flows the Batang Masang river.

The Batang Masang River from Panorama
Sianok Canyon and A flock of

In the Dutch era, the Sianok Canyon was called “karbouwengat”, because many wild buffalos lived at the bottom of the canyon You can go down to the bottom of the valley through a ladder called the Janjang Saribu (The Thousand of Ladders) which is 780 meters long. The ladder, which was formerly made of soil and bamboo, was used as a shortcut from Koto Gadang to Bukittinggi by the colonizers and the local community. Now, it has installed concrete paving blocks and safety iron on the ground and side floors. So, it is similar to the Great Wall in China with mini size. At the bottom of the valley, you can feel the cool water of the shallow Batang Masang river up close or look at the Terkurung Hill which was formed due to the 2007 earthquake. Most fun looking at it from cafe Taruko while drinking a cup of coffee.

Source: The Janjang
Source: Taruko
Source: Terkurung

Now, we return to the history of the construction of the Japanese Tunnel. To create an underground fortification, the Japanese brought in workers from Borneo, Sulawesi, and Java. Japan’s cruelty is realized because the workers are victims of Japanese kidnapping. Rumors also spread that these romusha workers did not understand the language used in Bukittinggi. This was part of a Japanese trick to keep the workers from communicating with the natives so that they were unknowingly used as forced laborers to build this 1,470-meter-long tunnel.
Initially, the workers digging the Japanese Tunnel were promised payment of wages. However, the practice was not in line with the provisions because Japan delegated heavy work without meeting the needs of workers’ food and clothing. This attitude makes workers unable and wants to run away. From there, the Japanese finally carried out coercion. There is information that village heads in several areas were ordered to mobilize the population, mostly farmers, to be forcibly transported into trucks and ports. In the progress of the construction of the Japanese Tunnel, the number of victims has not been determined until now. So to produce a mound of soil as deep as 40 meters from the earth’s surface, Japanese soldiers often torture workers. Therefore, at the entrance of the Japanese Tunnel, reliefs are made that describe the conditions during the tunnel construction process.
The Japanese Tunnel is 1400 meters deep with a depth of 2 meters below ground level in Bukittinggi City. Inside it has a diameter and a height of 2 meters. Then the depth is 40-50 meters underground with a rocky soil structure that is quite hard. Excavations in this cave are dumped into the canyon with a very deep bottom depth. In the cave 21 tunnels are used as living quarters, meeting rooms, ammunition depots, kitchens, dining rooms, reconnaissance slots, listening booths, Romusa workers’ barracks, torture, hostage burrows, ambushes, and escape gates. The room in the cave is planned to be made tortuous with several trap rooms. In the cave, there are two mouths of tunnels that can be seen now, one leading to Sianok Canyon, and the other is the entrance facing the city center. The function of the tunnel mouth is not only as an entrance but also as a vent to monitor the outside world. The mouth of the tunnel that leads to the bottom of the Sianok canyon is the exit point to the Batang Masang river which the Japanese army often used as a dumping ground for corpses.

Source : The Entrance Japanese
Source: The Japanese Tunnel
Source: The ladder into the Japanese
Source: The
Source: The Military
Source: The Reconnaissance
Source: The Ammunition
Source: The Escape door to Ngarai

According to the results of the data collection by the West Sumatra Cultural Heritage Preservation Center, it is stated that the Japanese Tunnel was established in 1943. However, various versions were found from both the Japanese and historical actors so information was obtained that the construction of the Japanese Tunnel was made in 1942, but construction began in March 1944 and was completed in early June 1944. The means of defense which is now managed by the Department of Culture and Tourism of the City of Bukittinggi was meaningless because Japan had already surrendered to the allies on August 14, 1945.
The defeat of Japan against the allies brought fresh air to the natives to oppose their troops. The atmosphere of wanting to be free from the shackles of colonialism became even more intense when the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by the allies on August 6 and 9, 1945. At that time, the youth and nationalist groups in Bukittinggi fought under cover and transparency. This situation brought happiness to the Indonesian people because it became the starting point for the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence on August 17, 1945.
The Japanese occupation of Indonesia, especially in the city of Bukittinggi, left traumatic for the people. However, the occupation has left cultural assets that currently play a role in supporting tourism in the city of Bukittinggi. This cultural object is surrounded by mountains and hills which attract local, national and international tourists.

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