Visit the Zozan Imperial Wartime Tunnels
Formally referred to as ‘Matsushiro Daihonei’ or the ‘Matsushiro Underground Imperial Headquarters’, construction of the tunnels and extensive subterranean network of bunkers and living quarters began on November 11th 1944. Intended to serve as the headquarters of the Japanese military and government should the Allied Forces invade – as was expected – the tunnels were never completed nor used at the time of Japan’s surrender on August 15th 1945.
The location was chosen for various reasons including its relative flattest and proximity to an airfield yet natural defensive barrier of the surrounding mountains, the solid substrata – suitable for excavation but considered able to withstand 10-tonne bombs of B-29s – along with the belief that local people would not reveal the location and thus keep the tunnels secret.
At the time of surrender, around 75% of the intended subterranean network had however been completed – amounting to 5900 squared metres of space through the extensive tunnels and bunkers requiring excavation of an estimated 2,000,000 cubic feet of soil and rock.
Excavation was undertaken by an estimated 10,000 forced labours, most of whom were Korean prisoners of war or indentured workers. It is also estimated that around 1,500 died during the construction. Korean comfort women were also on-site, adding further poignancy and political sensitivity to any visit or interpretation of the tunnels.
Today, visitors can still enter the tunnels and have access to a 500 metre stretch of the facility. The tunnels themselves are mostly bare, with occasional markings left by the Korean workers including some names. A small museum sits just outside the tunnel entrance which provides information about the conditions endure by the labourers.
Following Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces, documents relating to the tunnels were destroyed limiting our understanding of what took place there and the nature of daily life. Preservation of the tunnels is an important reminder of the horrendous cost of war on all sides, and most particularly, the conditions endure by those involved in their construction. A unique site, the Zozan Imperial Wartime Tunnels are much more than a tourist attraction and should be treated with the respect required of such a sensitive site.