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 I wrote blogs about the Longtan Butokuden, 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. Both shrines and police dorms were quite common in almost every city in Taiwan during the colonial era but few are left remaining today.
I have given a lot of credit to the current Taoyuan city government for its foresight in repairing and preserving these historical buildings and I've noticed over the past few weeks that restoration work has started on the Japanese Police Dorms meaning that they will be open to the public in the near future. I've also noticed that since I last posted about the Daxi Old Street that a few of the decaying Japanese buildings behind the Old Street have been completely renovated and are looking very nice!
Well done Taoyuan City Government!
Like the shrines and dorms, Butokuden Halls (武德殿) were another common type of building constructed in cities around Taiwan and were dedicated to the instruction of Japanese martial arts. Today some of the best remaining examples of traditional Japanese architecture in Taiwan are that of these Butokuden Halls.
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.
Daxi Butokuden Hall (大溪武德殿)
The Daxi Butokuden branch was constructed in 1935 (昭和10年) in a strategic location behind the downtown ("Old street") core of Daxi village near the Elementary School (大溪國民小學) and the local police precinct - which would have been beneficial as the purpose of the hall was to help train the police and the military as well as instilling a sense of Japanese-spirit with the youth of Taiwan.
Like the nearby Longtan Hall, the Daxi 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 Taoyuan City government recently completed a restoration project of the Daxi Butokuden with extensive repairs being made to the interior's ceiling and the hardwood floor while adding modern lighting. The exterior of the building was already in excellent shape so the government's restoration project spent most of its time rebuilding the administration office and changing rooms section which had been destroyed.
A beautiful windowed corridor leads from the main building to the office section where the martial arts practitioners would change into their uniforms and the building's administration would do their work. The newly repaired and renovated corridor was extremely well reconstructed according to the specifications of historians and a Japanese consultant making it look quite authentic.
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.
When the Japanese Colonial Era ended, the majority of the (over seventy) Martial Arts Halls around Taiwan were destroyed by the KMT - The Daxi Butokuden was able to escape that fate however due to the fact that President Chiang Kai-Shek loved the small village of Daxi so much that he had a villa built almost next door to it.
In 1950, the Butokuden was repurposed as a police outpost which would be charged with the protection of the president and his family while he was staying at the vacation home. Even though the president died in 1975, the Butokuden continued its role as a police outpost (charged with protecting the presidential villa) until it was abandoned in 1999.
The building was recognized for its historic significance by the government in 2004 and plans were made to restore it to its original condition with the intent that it be converted into a museum in honour of the timber industry which brought wealth to Daxi village when it was one of the economic hot spots in the early days of Taiwan's development.
Today the building is known (somewhat incorrectly) as the "Daxi Bushido Hall" and serves a double purpose as a historic building and the home to a museum. The term Bushido (武士道) refers to the samurai 'code of honour' and is a word commonly known in English. The correct title for the building is actually the "Butokuden" (武德殿) which indicates that it is a martial arts hall where Budo (武道) or Martial Arts are taught.
* Just in case anyone in the Tourism Bureau is paying attention.
The interior of the main hall is what you might imagine of a martial arts dojo. It is a large empty room with beautiful hardwood floors. The room is currently occupied however with exhibits from the wood museum which makes it difficult to really get a feeling of how big the room actually was eighty years ago. The exhibits however are interesting and showcase not only the beautiful Taiwanese wood that has come down from the nearby mountains but also the craftsmanship of the woodworkers in the area.
The Daxi Butokuden is a great place to stop by to check out some local history and it's even better when you include it as part of a day trip to the Daxi Old Street, which I highly recommend.
I have made plans to visit some of Taiwan's other remaining Butokuden halls, especially the larger ones in the south to learn more about these historic buildings. I also have a couple of posts ready about a former community of Japanese houses as well as a Japanese-style Buddhist shrine and hope to continue writing about Japan's colonial legacy here in Taiwan.
For my Taiwanese readers, I highly recommend checking out Willie Chen's blog articles about these halls, which are quite in depth and have been a valuable resource for me.
Map / Location
Address: #35 Puji Road, Daxi District, Taoyuan (桃園市大溪區普濟路35號旁) - Website