Taipei: traces of Japan

Taiwan came under Japanese control in 1895 after Japan won the First Sino-Japanese War, and for the next 50 years Taiwan was a Japanese colony. During this time the Japanese were met with armed resistance as they extended their control south into indigenous territory, but Japanese colonial history and heritage still has a visible presence in northern Taiwan. Beitou, a district in the north of Taipei was developed by the Japanese from a small village to a popular hot spring resort due to the many sulfurous natural springs in the area.

IMG_9137 (800x601)We didn’t bathe in a hot spring, but we did visit the Beitou Hot Spring Museum, which was built in the early 1910s, in Japanese colonial style. It was a very grand building, with a large Roman-style bath, stained-glass windows and a tatami-floored second floor. The exhibits at the building ranged from the geological and geothermal characteristics of the surrounding area, to Japanese traditions of sanitation, to an exhibition of post-war Taiwanese cinema.

IMG_9160 (594x800)IMG_9171 (800x600)IMG_9148 (800x600)I loved the illustrated explanation of Taiwanese film tropes, from the generic to the very specific.

IMG_9151 (595x800)Nearby there is also the Beitou Plum Garden, the summer residence of calligrapher Yu Youren. It was built in the 1930s, with the lower floor built of reinforced concrete to act as an air raid shelter, and the upper floor built of wood in traditional Japanese style. It became the home of Yu Youren in the 1950s when he moved with the Chinese Nationalist Party to Taiwan. I don’t remember there being many English explanations in the building, which is a pity because the meaning of the poetry was lost on me, but I could appreciate the beauty of his calligraphy and the furnishings were very evocative of a Chinese nostalgia.

IMG_9175 (800x600)For Japanese colonial nostalgia, see the Beitou Museum. The two-story Japanese-style wooden building was built in 1921 as a hot spring resort called the Kazan Hotel. It is located further away from the town of Beitou, up the mountains, surrounded by trees. It changed functions over the years, but during the second world war it was used as lodging for kamikaze pilots. The museum collections and exhibitions contain both Japanese and indigenous Taiwanese crafts, and during our visit the exhibitions were focused on tea, with many Japanese tea ceremony utensils on display, as well as old advertising posters for ‘Formosa Tea.’ The museum’s tea room is a beautiful place to have some Taiwanese-style oolong or jasmine tea, looking out onto the tree-covered hills. Though every now and then the sulphurous fumes of the hot springs waft through.

IMG_9189 (800x595)IMG_9192 (597x800)IMG_9183 (590x800)Back in the city, The Red House is a Japanese Western-style octagonal red brick market built in 1908. It has become a creative space in recent years, with independent boutiques, cultural events and creative workshops. The octagonal entrance has a small exhibition of the history of the building, and the walls are decorated with the type of goods that were imported for the Japanese living in colonial Taipei and sold in the market.IMG_9063 (800x599)

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Two Years Later: Fuji Five Lakes

Although I no longer live in Japan, Japan is still very much in my life. It never seems to leave you once you’ve been there. The draft posts I made from my last year in Japan niggle at me, because I want to remember them the way I do the novelty of my first year. This blog was never meant as a travel guide, it would become dated too quickly, but as a way for me to memorialize my experiences. So I hope, dear Reader, you won’t mind the time lag.


In November 2015 my aunt came to visit my sister and me, and as well as visiting Tokyo and Kanazawa, we took a trip to Fuji Five Lakes, where we could take in the scenic views of and around Mount Fuji. We stayed in Fujiyoshida, a sleepy Showa-era town at the base of the mountain.IMG_5750 (800x600)IMG_9025 (1024x768)IMG_8997 (800x601)Although most climbers start the trail at the fifth station where Fuji starts to get steeper, the journey through the lower elevations is supposed to be quite picturesque. Fujiyoshida is the start of the popular Yoshida trail which begins at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine. When we visited, it was around the time of the Shichi-go-san Festival which celebrates the ages of seven and three for girls, and five and three for boys, so we were lucky to see families with their dressed-up children visiting the shrine too.

IMG_8990 (800x600)IMG_9005 (800x600)IMG_9010 (600x800)IMG_9019 (800x600)The area has quite a few odd little museums and attractions, such as the Herb Hall and Music Forest (devoted to music boxes), but we visited the Kubota Itchiku Museum. This museum is dedicated to its namesake kimono designer, who revived or recreated the craft of tsujigahana silk dying. The museum complex feels larger than it is because of the variety of styles and atmospheres. The entrance is through an elaborately decorated portal consisting of a large wooden gate and metal shapes resembling bog-wood atop white stone steps. The outdoor space is very much a part of the museum, with its garden designed by landscape architect Yasuo Kitayama, metal sculptures, and connection to the surrounding natural landscape. Autumn is the most recommended season to visit this area because of the colourful leaves. The New Wing, a rustic Gaudí-esque one-storey building contains the ticket office, shop, cafe and gallery of Kubota’s collection of glass beads.

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The kimono are displayed in the Main Hall, a pyramidal structure that still recalls the atmosphere of temple honden with its large cypress beams. The ‘Symphony of Light’ a series depicting a continuous landscape of the changing seasons, is displayed around the sides, and individual pieces or smaller sets are displayed on the central platform. There is no glass in front of the kimono, which shows the museum’s confidence in the self-control of the visitor, because it is the texture, rather than the colours, that makes these kimono so breathtaking. Multiple techniques are used to create the effects; tie-dying, embroidery, gilding and painting. The splendour of the colours can be seen from photographs, but the fabric comes alive in person with variations of light and shade, creating movement even in pure white.

Kubota (700x417)The day we walked around Lake Kawaguchi was cloudy and blustery, so we really enjoyed our local dinner of hōtō, thick noodles in a miso broth with lots of vegetables. It was definitely hearty enough to keep us warm for the walk to the station. Since darkness had fallen we could see the onsen hotels on the other side of the lake, giving us the feeling of seeing the bathhouse appear across the water in Spirited Away.
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