Over the past few months I’ve posted a few times about some of the beautiful remnants of Taiwan’s Japanese Colonial Period. The colonial era lasted only five decades but in the short time that the Japanese controlled Taiwan, they helped to modernize the islands infrastructure and education and helped foster the importance of democratic governance all of which has had a lasting effect on the people of this tiny island nation.
It has been more than seven decades since the Colonial Era ended and while there are still quite a few well preserved examples of Japanese architecture left in Taiwan, most of the remaining buildings are in a state of decay and are in desperate need of not only recognition for their historical significance but some much needed maintenance and renewal.
In the past few weeks I’ve posted blogs about the Longtan Butokuden (龍潭武德殿), the Daxi Butokuden (大溪武德殿), the Tainan Butokuden (台南武德殿), the beautifully renovated Taoyuan Shinto Shrine (桃園神社) as well as the decaying (but soon to be renovated and converted into a park) Japanese Police Dormitories (中壢警察局日式宿舍群) here in Zhongli. These martial arts academies, shrines and police dorms were quite common in almost every city in Taiwan during the colonial era but few are left remaining today and that is why their preservation and telling their story are so important.
Legacy Of Taiwan’s Japanese Colonial Era (日治時期)
A lot can be said about the crimes committed by the Japanese Empire leading up to the Second World War. The bitter memory of that era is still felt today throughout Asia and a day doesn’t go by that Japan isn’t reminded of the horrific atrocities that were committed during that period.
Taiwan’s experience under Japanese colonial rule is considered to be a bit tamer than that of neighbouring countries as the regime sought to transform the island into a “model colony” and develop the islands infrastructure and economy as well as provide a modern education to the people living here.
As Taiwan was Japan’s first colony, the Japanese Empire wanted to show the world that being under Japanese control wasn’t such a terrible thing and that the people of Taiwan would only benefit from becoming a part of the empire. Unfortunately history has shown that things didn’t exactly turn out that way for some of Japan’s other colonies.
The colonial period (1895-1945) which lasted for a half century had its fair share of resistance from the local people and the colonial power was guilty of a great many atrocities, however the general feeling today is that people of this country share a strong bond with the Japanese and enjoy a friendship that despite a troubled history is based off of mutual understanding and respect for each other.
When Japan surrendered to the allies at the end of the war, control of Taiwan was handed over to Chiang Kai-Shek and his Republic of China. The Sino-Japanese War which ravaged China for so many years before caused a lot of resentment for the Japanese among the Chinese population and leaders of the government in China had a hard time understanding why the people of Taiwan looked upon their period of Japanese control with so little disdain.
The government decided that it would force Chinese culture upon the people of Taiwan which meant that traces of Japanese culture would have to be destroyed. These policies became a problem however when the KMT and over two million refugees were forced to escape to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War and were faced with a major housing shortage.
While there are remnants of the colonial period visible throughout Taiwan today, most structures that were dedicated to Japanese culture (temples, shrines, etc.) were torn down and are few and far between. When the housing situation eventually settled down and Taiwan was in the midst of its economic miracle, a lot of the homes that were occupied by the refugees were abandoned and thus left to decay on their own.
Butokuden Halls (武德殿)
Butokuden Halls were established in 1895 under the authority of the Japanese government and with the endorsement of the Meiji Emperor (明治大帝). The halls were meant to help solidify and preserve Japan’s martial arts disciplines where the virtues of the samurai-like warrior and noble Japanese heritage and dominance were promoted.
Budo basically refers to Japanese martial arts, but for more clarity I asked my Japanese friend for more information and she sent this definition: Budō is a compound of the root bu (武:ぶ), meaning “war” or “martial“; and dō (道:どう; Dao in Chinese), meaning “path” or “way. The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a “path” to realize them. Dō signifies a “way of life“. Dō in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. Modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one’s ego that must be fought.
While martial arts dojos were common throughout Japan, the Butokuden Halls were different because they were part of a state sponsored attempt to standardize Japanese martial arts while at the same time fostering fervent nationalism as well as the idea of Japanese exceptionalism though samurai-spirit which helped stoke the fires of militarism in the early years of the 20th century.
The Halls were part of a large organizational structure called the “Dai Nippon Butoku Kai” (大日本武德會) which sought to promote Japanese martial arts throughout the Japanese empire.
Starting in 1900 the halls spread to Taiwan with large buildings constructed in Taipei, Taichung and Tainan. In 1906 the Taiwan Butokuden branch (大日本武德會臺灣支部) was established and oversaw the construction of around seventy smaller halls throughout the island.
In Taiwan, the Butokuden Halls initially served the purpose of training the police, military and prison guards in Japanese martial arts and discipline. Later on the halls opened up more to the public in an attempt to train the citizens of Taiwan in Japanese martial arts as well as instil “Japanese Spirit” which is better known as “Yamato-damashii” (大和魂).
When the Second World War ended and subsequently the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, there were over seventy Butokuden halls throughout the country. The fate of those halls however was similar to a lot of other Japanese constructed buildings after the arrival of the Chinese Nationalists at the end of the Chinese Civil War. The buildings were either repurposed, used for housing or destroyed.
Today only about a dozen of these halls continue to exist in Taiwan – Some of the halls have been recognized as National Historic Buildings and have either been repurposed or renovated while others are in a sad state of disrepair and are in desperate need of attention.
Likewise, the “Dai Nippon Butoku Kai” organization was dissolved and then reestablished after the war with a new philosophical vision of preserving Japan’s martial arts heritage while at the same time contributing to “world peace, international goodwill, mutual understanding and respect and prosperity through Budo education.”
Butoku Kai centres have since spread throughout the world with halls constructed in the US, Canada, UK, France, Russia, etc. Here in Taiwan however, the halls are under appreciated historical relics and while they are historically relevant their original purpose – the promotion of Japanese martial arts has all but disappeared.
Changhua Butokuden (彰化武德殿)
The Changhua Butokuden is one of the largest and most beautiful of the remaining Martial Arts Halls left in Taiwan. The almost ninety year old hall which was completed in 1930 (昭和5年) sits in the downtown core of Changhua at the base of Bagua Mountain (八卦山) near not only the local government buildings and police precincts but also the Changhua Confucius Temple (彰化孔廟) and the Jieshao Shrine (節孝祠) which both predate it.
Like all of the Butokuden’s in Taiwan, the Changhua Hall was built in a strategic location that was close to local government and police buildings as well as sitting near Changhua High School (彰化高中), Zhongshan Elementary school (中山國小) and Changhua Girls Senior High School (彰化女中) which were all constructed by the Japanese during the Colonial Era. The strategic location was instrumental in offering martial arts education to the people in the area and also for the purpose of helping to convert residents into proud members of the Japanese empire.
When the colonial era ended, the Changhua Butokuden followed in the footsteps of the Taoyuan Shinto Shrine and the Tungxiao Shinto Shrine and was renamed the Changhua Martyr’s Shrine (彰化縣忠烈祠) which was dedicated to the fallen members of the Republic of China army and is probably the reason why a Japanese building of its size and beauty has been able to survive until this day given the anti-Japan sentiments felt by the mainlanders who retreated to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War.
In September of 1999 the Hall was heavily damaged due to the devastating 921 Earthquake which rocked Taiwan and caused massive devastation around the country. In the aftermath the Changhua County Government made plans to repair the building with authenticity being the key factor in their restoration project.
The building was designated a protected historic property in 2001 and the restoration project was completed a few years later in 2005. When the project was completed the hall reverted back to its original “Changhua Butokuden” name and would from then on could be used for various purposes while maintaining its historical importance.
Like the other Butokuden Halls that I’ve posted about thus far, the Changhua Hall was built with a combination of Japanese and Western construction techniques mixing brick, concrete and beautiful Taiwanese cypress. As what we consider traditional Japanese architecture was heavily influenced by the architectural style of the Tang Dynasty (唐朝), the building was designed to imitate that of a Tang palace.
The roof of the main building is very characteristic of Tang-style architecture and while some people may identify the building as one that is very ‘Japanese’ in design, its important to note that the architectural style is a nod to Japan’s historic relationship with China in the early stages of its development. The wooden roof has four sides and rises to resemble a mountain-like structure known as a “hip-and-gable roof” (懸魚) with “owl’s tail” (鴟尾) decorations on each end.
The most interesting thing I noticed about the Changhua Hall though (and is something that differs from the Martial Arts halls that I’ve seen thus far on this little project of mine) is that the various roof trusses and gables are adorned with the words Budō “武德“. I had originally thought that this was likely a product of the restoration project but the much smaller Erlin Butokuden (二林武德殿) in Changhua county (which I also visited and will post about shortly) was also adorned with the characters “武“ in the same areas of the building and has yet to be restored.
The interior of the Hall is unfortunately not open to the public but it is easy to peer in through the doors and the windows at the empty one-room building with its shiny hardwood floors. There are no decorations on the walls or anything that points to its past as either a Martial Arts Hall or a Martyrs Shrine but the simple empty room shows that it would have been a pretty cool place to practice martial arts with not only ample space, a beautiful hardwood floor but also lots of light coming in from the many windows on each of the four sides of the building.
Like most Butokuden’s, there is an administration building to the rear of the main building but as of this moment it is still in the process of being restored and on the day I visited was full of workers laying the floor. I’m guessing that in the next year or so that the building will be reopened to the public but I’m not actually sure what function it will serve as the main building is also closed to the public.
Interestingly I got in touch with the people at the local Changhua County tourism bureau and asked when the Butokuden would be open the public. They replied that it is open on March 29th and September 3rd each year for meetings. It was also open last year on August 23rd on the commemoration of the 70th year since the end of the Second World War. Not that any of those dates helps you or I. They were happy to inform me about those dates though. Every other day is considered “未開放” or “No Admittance” which kind of sucks.
The interiors of these buildings, with the exception of the Tainan Butokuden have rarely been interesting though so I suppose you’re probably much better off checking out the beautiful architecture and design of the exterior thanks going inside.
If you are visiting Changhua, be sure to stop by the Butokuden and check out this amazing piece of history that sits quietly in a small corner of the downtown core. If you have a day-trip planned to Changhua, you can easily include a stop at the Martial Arts Hall before moving on to some of the other attractions. The Hall and most of Changhua’s historic attractions are a short UBike ride from the Changhua Train Station, so getting there is quite easy.
Gallery / Flickr (High Res Photos)
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