Wed, 05 Apr 2000

Goa Jepang, natural museum for Japanese killed in WW II

By Neles Tebay

BIAK, Irian Jaya (JP): If you want to get a picture of an episode of the Second World War, you should go to Biak, the capital of Biak Numfor regency, in Irian Jaya. For here you will find a cave which used to be used as a defense fortress by Japanese soldiers.

Locals call the cave "Gojep", an acronym standing for Goa Jepang (Japanese cave). It is easy to find. Just ask any resident in Biak how to get there. You can't miss it.

The main street in Sumberker village in Samofa subdistrict leading to the cave is called Jl. Goa Jepang. It is just two kilometers from the Frans Kaisiepo airport in Biak.

Located in a forest, the cave is one of Biak Numfor's main tourist attractions.

According to Yusuf Rumaropen, an Irianese who has been taking care of the cave for 20 years, the forest is kept intact; tree cutting is strictly forbidden to keep the historic site as it is. The cave is surrounded by wooden fences.

People may visit the cave free of charge. Yusuf is in charge of accompanying visitors and he is well-versed about all the human remains scattering the cave.

He says a large number of Japanese nationals have visited the historical site. They always visit in groups. They pray in front of the monument erected in 1956 outside the cave to those who killed in the war.

Then they will walk into the cave. "Many Japanese, especially relatives of the dead, break down and cry when they arrive inside", Yusuf said.

According to Yusuf, the Japanese discovered the three- kilometer-long cave in 1943. Its gate is located in Paray beach in Paray village, Biak city. "Japanese soldiers entered the cave from Paray beach, Yusuf said.

The soldiers occupied three large rooms built inside the cave.

Quoting a story told by local elders, Yusuf said the Japanese soldiers managed to shoot down a U.S. plane from their hiding place.

However, eventually the U.S. army came to know where the Japanese soldiers were hiding. So in the early morning of July 7, 1944, the U.S. Army attacked the cave.

The cave was bombarded. The Americans also dropped drums of gasoline into the hideout and blasted them from the air, setting the cave into fire.

"The cave burned for several months," Yusuf says. Some 3,000 Japanese soldiers were trapped and killed in the attack.

The cave still shows signs of the heavy bombardment, such as large holes in the rocks and rocket shells collected in the cave, as Yusuf can show visitors.

Yusuf has collected the reminiscent of the war in a 4 meter by 6 meter cement house which he has made into a mini museum at the cave.

There are bottles of medicines, drinks bottles, shrapnel, guns, military hats, booths, samurais and perfume. On the wall, there is a chronology of the attack on the cave.

The skeletal remains of the Japanese soldiers were put in a box. "I am obliged to safeguard these bones," Yusuf says.

Yusuf collected the scattered bones with the help of some 30 Irianese.

"Many of the skeletal remains have been taken by the Japanese government", Yusuf said.

Some officials at the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta came and collected remains in September 1999.

"They collected bones, cremated them and brought the ashes back to Japan", Yusuf says.

The local authorities have earmarked the cave as a tourist site.