Sunday, July 26, 2009

Taoyuan's unique Shinto relic (China Post)

Taiwan was ruled by Japan for half a century until the end of World War II. Dozens of splendid examples of architecture from that era can be found in Taipei and other cities, yet very little evidence of Shinto – the official religion of Japan throughout the colonial period – has survived.

A torii gate, part of a Shinto shrine, can be seen on the roof of what used to be the Hayashi Department Store in downtown Tainan. But a far more interesting relic of Shintoism exists in North Taiwan – Taoyuan Martyrs Shrine.

The Taoyuan Jinja, as the martyrs shrine was known during the colonial period, was inaugurated on September 23, 1938. Among those worshipped here were Amaterasu, the mythical ancestress of Japan's royal family, and Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa, the imperial relative who died of malaria while commanding Japanese military units during the 1895 takeover of Taiwan.

Made largely of cypress, the structure is classically Japanese in that it reflects the massive influence on Japan of China's Tang dynasty. It stands on the slopes of a forest-covered hill that's alive with birds and butterflies. Unless the weather is very bad indeed, you can look down over Taoyuan...

Click here to read the complete article. The bronze horse shown here is an original feature of the Shinto shrine. During the colonial era the Japanese had a great regard for their horses - some military officers were buried with their steeds.

4 comments:

kaminoge said...

Good article. There is also a well-preserved Shinto shrine in Tongxiao Township in Miaoli County. In addition, Linnei Park in Linnei Township, Yunlin County, has a couple of torii gates and several large stone lanterns, plus an interesting photo display on the original shrine that used to stand there.

However, a couple of clarifications to your article are in order. The shrine was not known as Taoyuan Jinja during the colonial period, it was called Tōen (or Touen) Jinja 桃園神社. "Tōen" is the Japanese reading of the characters 桃園.

The other concerns the sentence:

"...the structure is classically Japanese in that it reflects the massive influence in Japan of China's Tang dynasty"

which is something of an overstatement. The main shrine building in Taoyuan was constructed in the Kasuga style, and shows a Buddhist influence. However, the best example of "classically Japanese" shrine architecture is the Shimmei style found at the Ise Grand Shrines in Japan, and is considered to be wholly nativist, without any continental influences.

realtaiwan said...

I question the word "colonial". Japan was trying to make Taiwan and Taiwanese part of Japan, instead of just ripping the resources from Taiwan only.

Compare with any other colonies around the world, Japan is doing a whole lot more in/for Taiwan.

Steven Crook... said...

Kaminoge - thanks for your insights. You obviously know far more about these things than me.

Realtaiwan - I stand by the word 'colonial.' Japan ran Taiwan to benefit Japan. Of course, life here was better under Japanese rule than it was for the average Chinese in China at that time, but if you read about how the sugar industry, to take one example, was structured, you'll see what I mean. Nevertheless, Japan shouldn't feel too ashamed of what they achieved in Taiwan. Compared to Belgium in the Congo, they certainly did help the locals.

Steven Crook... said...

Realtaiwan - also, 'nipponification' as a goal came relatively late. The Kominka movement didn't start until the late 1930s, for instance.