D' Japanese Tunnel in Davao

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Sunday, January 26, 2014


BASED on my beloved history books, the Japanese arrival in the Davao Region had been very significant in the declaration of Davao as a city back in March 1937.

From 1903 prior to the World War, there came a surge of Japanese migrants as hired laborers for American and Filipino owned vast abaca plantations in Davao. While it gave boost to the economy by teaching Filipinos agricultural technology, these skilled laborers eventually became successful and took over businesses which included hotels, hospitals, restaurants, stores, establishments and other agricultural and fishing businesses. It gave Davao the moniker of “Little Tokyo” as the Japanese migration peaked in the 1930s.

This particular invasion of foreign entrepreneurs and interest in land acquisition prompted President Manuel L. Quezon to immediately sign a declaration of Davao as a city independent from the province, to ease national fears of an economic and political takeover. Today, Japanese shrines and structures have remained intact and were preserved as tourist destinations for Japanese descendants, the highest number of whom are living in Davao and Mindanao.

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After World War II, the legend of the Yamashita treasure seduced many treasure hunters to Davao, particularly in Mintal, Tugbok District (now declared as the Japanese Heritage Site of the City), where hiding places for the war loots were supposedly buried deep underground within numerous foxholes and crisscrossing tunnels built by soldiers and prisoners of war.

While I have visited one other Japanese tunnel excavated in a private property (remnants of an old gun were kept by the owner), the only popular tunnel open to the public is D' Japanese Tunnel Family Resort and Restaurant along Hillcrest Subdivision, Diversion Road in Matina Balusong. Owned by the Lim family, the manmade hideout said to be built in 1942 and accidentally discovered during the national highway’s construction in the 60s has now expanded into a family hotel and restaurant with a swimming pool for kids.

Many stories curiously thrive about this tunnel, which officially opened in 2001, the first time I visited the place. It is said to have connecting underground passageways to Samal Island, the foothill of Mount Apo and other areas. For now though, only 300 meters of damp underpass is readily accessible to the tourists, at a P50 entrance fee for adults and P20 for children. The rest of the long tunnel is blocked off because it does not belong to their property anymore.

With a tourist guide, you are led to a dimly lit entrance that opens wide but narrows as you go further inside the tunnel. History is recounted of Filipinos kept in tiny prison cells, as well as cubicles for quarters, ammunition compartment, meetings, secret routes and storage for goods and weaponry.

A replica of “Daibutsu”, world’s largest gilded bronze Buddha in Todai-ji Temple, is on display in one of the chambers. Statues of soldiers in varying poses from the entrance down to several cavities in the tunnel reenact historical scenes. A small cell turned into a “wishing well” where coins are strewn on the floor is watched over by a guard statue on post.

At certain times in the late afternoon, mist would form inside the passageway because trickling water on walls and ceilings are coming from a cold stream that passes through a canal and a well. Two etched arrows on both walls can be clearly seen, said to be carved by the Japanese which in those times indicate sure markers for hidden treasure.

The trip may be short but the female guide was engaging, relating other stories where cameras of visitors captured other-worldly experiences and orb sightings. Disappointingly, nothing came out of my camera. She suggested we come back by sunset, when the atmosphere gets interestingly creepier.

Nearing the entrance, edible-nest swift birds (“balinsasayaw”) huddled inside makeshift nests stuck on the ceilings, their saliva a most sought after expensive delicacy for birds’ nest soup. Don’t leave the tunnel without a photo beside the Kimono-clad Japanese statue carrying a dainty parasol.

The tunnel is open between 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., so you have plenty of time to avoid the tour rush during afternoons. The hotel room rates vary from P900 (single) up to P3960 (suite), while they have function rooms open for events.

For inquiry and bookings, email djapanesetunnel@ymail.com or find them on Facebook.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 27, 2014.

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