Longtan Martial Arts Hall (龍潭武德殿)

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 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.

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.

Longtan Butokuden Hall (龍潭武德殿)

The Longtan Butokuden branch was constructed in 1930 (昭和5年) in the downtown core of Longtan village directly across from the Longtan Elementary School (龍潭國民小學) which predates it. The Butokuden Hall is next to the traditional market area where remnants of Japan's colonial history are still on display if you look closely enough.

The Longtan 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 to imitate that of a Tang palace.

The roof of the 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 relationship with China in the early stages of its development. The wooden roof has four sides and rises to resemble a mountain-like structure.

While the roof of the building seems to be in excellent condition, the rest of the building's exterior needs a bit of restoration work. The walls seem to have been stained over time and the windows are also in bad shape.

As for the interior, I can only tell you what I've read as the building isn't currently open to the public. The interior is very simple with a large room that was used for the dojo's training sessions. There are possibly two small rooms on either side of the main room that would have been used by the administrators of the Hall. I can't say that with any degree of confidence though since information about this specific Hall is scarce online. I have however searched the blueprints of some of the other remaining Butokuden's in Taiwan and it would seem that it would be a likely hypothesis on my part.

I'm unclear as to the future plans for this Hall but I would hope that the Taoyuan city government is clairvoyant enough to start a restoration project and reopen the Hall to the public. A re-openedHall would give tourists another reason to visit Longtan village, which already has a few interesting places to visit in walking distance of the Hall.

In the future I plan on visiting some of Taiwan's other Butokuden temples, especially the larger ones in the south to learn more about these historic buildings and continue writing about Japan's colonial legacy here in Taiwan.

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