Yilan Shinto Shrine (宜蘭神社遺址)

I read an interesting quote from a Taiwanese historian recently that explained that when the Japanese came to Taiwan they developed the island and built things that were meant to last.

They did this because they never actually planned to leave.

The historian continued to explain that when the Colonial Era ended and the Chinese Nationalists fled to Taiwan, they constructed buildings with the mindset that they would only be temporary as were only here for a short time before going back to China.

This is why you can still find buildings and infrastructure constructed during the Japanese Colonial Era that was beautifully designed and still standing after all these years. Whereas a lot of the buildings constructed after they left are constantly falling apart.

The Japanese mindset when it came to Taiwan was that the island would become a ‘model colony’ and the colonial government would do their best to develop the island’s infrastructure, modernize its economy and educate the local people who lived here.

This isn’t to say that the Japanese weren’t guilty of atrocities - they certainly committed their fair share and in many countries across Asia, the history of Japanese Imperialism is one that conjures up a lot of bad memories for those who experienced it.

When the Japanese were forced to leave Taiwan, they left the island in a considerably better situation than before they arrived which is part of the reason why, despite the negatives brought by colonial rule, locals often have a positive outlook on their half-century under Japanese rule.

In China, the experience with Japanese Imperialism was completely different, so when the Republic of China took control of Taiwan (and later fled here in the early 1950s) they could hardly understand how the local population could look so favourably upon the Japanese.

The combination of the experiences the Chinese had with Japan during the Second World War and the Taiwanese affinity for Japanese rule created a rift between the two and is one of the contributing factors as to why so many unfortunate atrocities took place during the ensuing four decades, known as Taiwan’s “White Terror” (白色恐怖) period.

During that forty year period, which we are still learning about today, the Chinese Nationalists took it upon themselves to forcefully promote Chinese culture on the locals while subjugating the use of local indigenous languages as well as Taiwanese, Hakka and Japanese.

They also did their best to rid Taiwan of any evidence of Japanese culture that couldn’t be ‘repurposed’ for their own usage. This meant that almost all of the over 200 Shinto Shrines that were constructed throughout the country would ultimately disappear over this period.

Now that Taiwan has entered a new era of peace and stability, it has become important for society to take an honest look at and learn from the crimes of the past. This includes not only seeking transitional justice for those who were persecuted or murdered, but also making efforts to revive and preserve the languages of the local peoples, and the restoration of important cultural and historic places of interest.

One of the areas where the government has put a considerable amount of effort in the past few years is the restoration and preservation of buildings that were constructed during the Japanese Colonial Era. These efforts have focused on the restoration of the many Martial Arts Halls, Shinto Shrines, train stations and former civil servant dormitories throughout the country.

All over the country you can see restoration projects taking place transforming many of these historic structures into popular tourist destinations.

Of the over two hundred Shinto Shrines that once existed in Taiwan during the Colonial Era, very few actually remain in existence today. The government has made an effort to rebuild and restore some of those that remain but unfortunately only the Taoyuan and Tongxiao Shrines are the largest that are still around.

Interestingly, the former Yilan Shinto Shrine, which like many other large shrines was more or less destroyed decades ago, has experienced a bit of a revival in recent years - but not for being rebuilt like some of the others.

The shine, like several of the other large Shinto Shrines in Taiwan (including the two mentioned above) was converted into a “Martyrs’ Shrine”, a place dedicated to paying respect to the fallen soldiers of the Republic of China Armed Forces.

What makes this one interesting though is the way the local government has gone about restoring the shrine. Instead of rebuilding it, they have instead converted the site into a makeshift memorial with an art display that tells the story of its destruction while keeping the Martyrs Shrine intact.

The Yilan Shinto Shrine (宜蘭神社)

The Yilan Shinto Shine or “Giran Jinjya” (ぎらんじんじゃ) was classified as a prefectural shrine and the largest of the over a dozen shrines constructed in the Yilan area during the colonial period.

The shrine, which was one of the first constructed in Taiwan was originally constructed in 1906 during the latter years of the Meiji Era (明治), in what is today Zhongshan Park (中山公園) near the Yilan Train Station.

A little more than a decade later though it was decided that the shrine would have to be relocated outside of Yilan City to an area with more space. The shrine also had serious structural issues which made it unrepairable due to the amount of typhoons and earthquakes on the east coast.

In 1918 (大正7年), the new and improved Yilan Shinto Shrine opened to the public just outside of the main city on a small mountain. The location that was chosen for the shrine was an optimal one that allowed for the new shrine to be constructed in a traditional fashion with a ground level walking path, a set of stone stairs that led up the mountain, a Haiden (拜殿) and a Honden (本殿) which were both constructed at different elevations.

From historical records and photos I can tell you that the Yilan Shinto Shrine was complete with a Torii (鳥居), Visiting Path (参道), Purification Fountain (手水舎), Stone Lanterns (燈籠), Bronze Horse (銅馬), Komainu (狛犬), Haiden (拜殿) and Honden (本殿).

Unfortunately I haven’t seen much evidence of the shrine including a ‘Shamusho’ Administrative Office (社務所), although for a shrine of its size, I’m sure there was one somewhere - Its just not showing up in photos or records.

What is quite apparent from the few photos that are available though is that the Yilan Shinto Shrine was indeed one of the most beautiful in Taiwan and for the few decades of its existence was a popular place to visit.

The shrine, much like many of the others that would later be constructed around Taiwan was primarily dedicated to Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (能久親王), the ‘Three Deities of Cultivation’ (開拓三神) and the Goddess Amaterasu (天照皇大神).

It is significant to note that Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (北白川宮能久親王) was a distant relative of the Japanese emperor and was the first royal who had the unfortunate luck of dying outside of Japan. The details of his death are somewhat disputed but he either died as a result of contracting Malaria or by being shot by Taiwanese Guerrillas.

Nevertheless he died just outside of Tainan during the 1894-1895 invasion of Taiwan and was quickly elevated to the status of a ‘kami’ with shrines dedicated in his honour throughout Taiwan - as well as in Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine.

Another commonality among many of Taiwan’s Shinto Shrines were the worship of the ‘Three Deities of Cultivation’ (かいたくさんじん / 開拓三神) which consisted of three gods known for their skills with regard to nation-building, farming, business and medicine. Similar to the Chinese Earth God (土地公 / 福德正神) who is enshrined in probably more than a thousand different locations around Taiwan.

Unfortunately all that remains of the Yilan Shinto Shrine today are shattered pieces of the past.

There are however a few pieces that have been left intact. The ‘Visiting Path’ (参道) still features prominently on the park. Likewise the steps that bring visitors up the mountain are still there with the original Komainu (狛犬) lion-dogs guarding them.

The original Haiden (拜殿), Honden (本殿), Torii (鳥居) and Stone Lanterns (燈籠) however have all been demolished and are part of the display in front of the original Bronze Horse (銅馬), which is an interesting case and deserves a bit of explanation.

Bronze Horse

Typically the horses, known as ‘God Horses’ (神馬) sit in front of a shinto shrine and are considered to be the personal mount of the gods enshrined within the temple. Known as “Shinme” (しんめ), the horses are often beautifully molded from bronze and designed in a way that makes them look powerful and majestic while also in a perpetual sense of motion.

In most cases the horse are decorated with a round symbol on their belly that usually depicts the Chrysanthemum Seal of the Japanese royal family, known as the Kikukamonshō (菊花紋章).

When the Chinese Nationalists took control of Taiwan they ended up destroying most of the country’s Shinto Shrines, but for some bizarre reasons left some of the bronze horses standing.

They did however make sure to vandalize the Chrysanthemum Sea, something I’ve already mentioned when I blogged about the former Taichung Shinto Shrine. (Click the link to see photos of the horses)

The Bronze Horse at the Yilan Shinto Shrine however stands apart from many of the others that remain in existence today due to the fact that the emblem on its belly wasn’t vandalized. Amazingly it was left alone.

The reason for this is quite simple - The emblem on the horse’s belly isn’t the ‘Chrysanthemum Seal’ but the official seal that the Japanese colonial government used for “Taiwan”, which is a symbol that remains popular in Taiwan today, especially with independence activists. (See a mock up of a proposed Taiwan flag below)

Even though most of the Shinto Shrine is non-existent today, I highly recommend checking out the Bronze Horse as its continued existence is actually quite surprising. Its also cool to check out the interesting art display near the horses which depict the lost pieces of the shrine in their smashed state.

Yilan Martyrs’ Shrine (宜蘭忠烈祠)

When Japan surrendered to the allies at the end of the war, control of Taiwan was ambiguously handed over to Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣中正) and the Republic of China. A few years later though, they would find themselves on the losing side of the Chinese Civil War and were forced to retreat to Taiwan to regroup their forces.

The influx of a few million refugees created food and housing shortages all over Taiwan and the local people were the ones who had to endure the majority of those hardships. Likewise, the resentment toward anything “Japanese” meant that any buildings of cultural or religious significance that wasn’t helping to solve the housing crisis was demolished or vandalized.

In the early 1950s the Yilan Shinto Shrine was demolished and replaced with a Martyrs’ Shrine (忠烈祠), dedicated to the fallen members of the Republic of China Armed Forces.

The small one-room building was constructed to appear like a traditional temple and on the inside you could find a Spirit Tablet (神位), representing the fallen members of the Armed Forces.

The ironic thing about ‘Martyrs Shrines’ in Taiwan is that the people memorialized within were all born in China and fought in wars that really had nothing to do with Taiwan.

If locals want to pay respect to family members who gave their life serving in the military during the Second World War, they’d have to travel to the Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社) in Tokyo.

After the shinto shrine was demolished, the ground level area where the ‘Visiting Path’ once existed was converted into a makeshift Military Village (眷村) known as Xingguo New Village (興國新村) where members of the airforce stationed nearby took up residence.

Military Villages Links: Mazu New Village | Rainbow Village  

After a few decades people slowly started realizing that the dream of ‘Retaking the Mainland’ from the Communists was never going to happen. So, with the housing crisis solved and the economy booming, people started to slowly leave the villages for more modern and permanent arrangements.

The local government decided in the early 1990s that Xingguo Village would be demolished and converted into a park, paying homage in part to its history as a Shinto Shrine with the ‘visiting path’ faithfully restored and the shattered pieces of the shrine that remained put on display.

In addition the east and west wings of the Martyrs Shrine would be converted into an exhibition space which would display historic photos of the shrine and have diagrams of what it looked like before being destroyed.

I suppose even though the Shinto Shrine is long gone, its memory is being recognized in a responsible way and people are able to learn about an important piece of this nations history.

Getting There


The Yilan Martyrs Shrine is located within the Yuanshan Park (員山公園) in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉), just outside of Yilan City.

If you have your own means of transportation the park is located a short distance from the Number 7 Highway (北橫公路) on Yuanshan Road Section One (員山路一段) and a quick turn onto Fuxing Road (復興路).

The park has ample parking space for your vehicle, so you probably won’t have to park too far away, unless of course there is a public event going on.

If you are relying on public transportation, simply take Bus #753 from the Yilan Bus Station (宜蘭轉運站) located to the rear of Yilan Train Station (宜蘭車站) and it will drop you off at the park.

Yilan isn’t the most accessible place when it comes to public transportation and they don’t have YouBike service, so if you can’t catch the bus but still want to visit you may want to consider taking a taxi from the train station. Its not that far, so it won’t cost you very much.

It is a historical injustice and truly unfortunate that so few of the over two hundred Shinto Shrines that were constructed here still exist today. The few that remain thus serve as an important link to part of Taiwan’s colonial history. The recent preservation efforts to restore some of the culturally-significant colonial-era structures are important steps in offering the people of Taiwan a link to their past - and their continued existence should serve as a reminder for the future citizens of this country of everything this nation has had to experience to get to where it is today.

Even though the Yilan Shinto Shrine has been all but destroyed, it has left quite the imprint on Yuanshan Park. The local government has done as well as can be expected to preserve the few remaining pieces of the shrine and offer them as a bit of a memorial of the past.

While the Martyrs Shrine itself is not really that interesting, the remnants of the former Shinto Shrine that are left in the park are enough of a reason to visit. If you find yourself in the Yilan area and are looking to learn a bit about the area’s history, this is definitely one place where you should think about making a stop. It won’t take you very long to see it all and the park is quite enjoyable with lots of activities happening on weekends.

Yilan Confucius Temple (宜蘭孔廟)

When most people plan a day trip to Yilan, their itinerary usually consists of spending time enjoying the beautiful mixture of mountain and ocean landscape, relaxing in a volcanic hot spring bath and of course ending the day with a visit to the famous Luodong Night Market (羅東夜市).

Being the preferred destination for the residents of Taipei, the east coast comes alive on weekends and holidays with city dwellers looking to enjoy a bit of relaxation in one of Taiwan’s most beautiful areas.

I’m not most people though.

Sure, I’m a fan of hot spring resorts and yes the Luodong Night Market is absolutely amazing - But these things are usually only afterthoughts when I’m planning a visit to the area.

The cool thing about Yilan, (at least for me) is that it is full of temples - historic and modern - and they are all huge.

You see, Yilan is made up mostly of farms and that means there is a lot of space.

It is also full of farmers, who have over the past few centuries pooled together their wealth of resources to construct ornate temples that on average dwarf in size the temples that you’ll find throughout the rest of the country.

If you’re a temple-hopper like myself you can most-definitely look forward to a long and enjoyable day exploring whenever you visit Yilan.

I realize that most people aren’t as enthusiastic as I am about this kind of stuff but I still highly recommend that you at least stop by one of Yilan’s massive places of worship to learn a bit about the culture of the area.

While most of Yilan’s temples go out of their way to be large and ornate, the county’s Confucius Temple sits quietly and with little fanfare in the middle of the downtown core of Yilan City.

Confucius Temple’s can seem a bit out of place when compared to Taiwan’s other places of worship considering they stress a philosophy of simplicity while all the Taoist and Folk-Religion temples go out of their way to be the exact opposite.

If you’ve followed my blog over the past few years you may have noticed that one of my personal projects has been to photograph and introduce Taiwan’s various Confucius Temples -  Most of which receive very little attention from English-language writers or travel guides.

Link: The Confucius Temples of Taiwan

This historic temple has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time and although I was forewarned that it is a bit disappointing in comparison to the other Confucius Temple’s around the country, I was still happy to be able to check it off the list and introduce it to anyone who’d like to visit.

The Yilan Confucius Temple (宜蘭孔廟)

There is very little English-language literature available online about this temple but what you will be able to find is the bold claim that the temple has a long history dating back to 1868.

While this isn’t technically a false claim, it isn’t exactly true either.

The history of the Yilan Confucius Temple is actually a tale of two different temples which were constructed in two different locations.

You may think that this is some sort of translation error but Chinese-language literature is quick to offer the same dates as historic fact.

Basically the history of a “Confucius Temple” in Yilan, or the “organization” that took care of the temple dates back over a century and a half but doesn’t actually relate to the building that you see today.

The Old Confucius Temple (舊孔廟)

Dating back to the Qing Dynasty, the original Confucius Temple was constructed near the Eastern Gate (東門) within (was was then) the walled area of “Komalan Sub-prefecture” (葛瑪蘭廳).

The original temple was modelled after the design of the Tainan Confucius Temple but was renowned for having the ‘Most beautiful Dacheng Hall in all of Taiwan’ (全台最美的大成殿).

Today all that remains of the original temple is a simple brick wall in a narrow alley within the Xinming Road Central Market (新明路中央市場).

Construction started in 1868 and when it was completed a few years later it was the largest structure within the walled-city and also one of the most important.

Unlike the current iteration of the temple, the original was considered to be a more “complete” Confucius Temple which (as mentioned above) was based off of the Tainan design.

Link: Tainan Confucius Temple (台南孔廟)

The temple consisted of a Lingxing Gate (櫺星門), Dacheng Hall (大成殿), Chongsheng Hall (崇聖祠), Minglun Hall (明倫堂), several different gates, a pond, a bridge, a courtyard, etc.

During the latter stages of the Qing Dynasty, emphasis was placed on the promotion of Confucian-style education and governance making the temple an important symbol and the only one on the eastern coast of the island.

When the Japanese Colonial Era began in 1895, the government was quick to institute modern educational reforms and the temple was repurposed as a medical centre until a proper hospital could be constructed. When the medical facilities were later relocated to a newly constructed hospital, the temple complex was left abandoned and fell into a state of disrepair.

In the years following it was damaged several times by typhoons and earthquakes as well as the American bombing campaigns during the Second World War.

In 1951, a series of devastating typhoons damaged the temple beyond repair and it was decided that it would have to be torn down and rebuilt.

Demolition and Construction Controversies

In Taiwan, the demolition of a Temple is no simple matter and there are an infinite amount of considerations that need to take place before a temple is torn down.

Confucius Temples are a bit different than Buddhist, Taoist or Folk Religion places of worship in terms of superstition, however there is still a tremendous amount of respect for the building and what it stands for.

So, when it came time for solutions to deal with the dilapidated Yilan Confucius Temple it became a situation that created quite a few controversies.

First, the demolition would have to be taken care of in a respectful manner, but the company that was charged with its demolition was charged with violating its contract and stealing the precious timber that was used to construct the temple.

While the temple was being demolished, the question of where the new temple would be constructed also became a point of contention that erupted in public protests.

The government had selected the site of the Yilan Shinto Shrine (宜蘭神社) in the nearby Yuanshan Township (員山鄉) as the place where the shrine would be built. The problem with this was that even though the Shinto Shrine was a reminder of Taiwan’s colonial past, it was still considered a sacred site, so replacing it with a Confucius Temple proved to be quite unpopular.

Another issue is that Confucius Temples are traditionally constructed near schools on a flat piece of land - The site of the Yilan Shinto Shrine however wasn’t near a school and it was constructed on a mountain which meant that the construction of a Confucian Temple in this area would defy traditional architectural standards which were set almost a thousand years earlier.

The government eventually capitulated and selected a site that was near Yilan City’s North Gate (北門) and more importantly, next to a school.

Unfortunately the project to construct a new temple met with financial constraints and forced the construction team to take shortcuts not only with the design of the temple but also the materials that would be used to build it. While the current temple generally follows traditional standards, they had to make concessions and used concrete instead of wood to imitate the tradition designs.

That wouldn’t be the last controversy though as while the new Confucius Temple was still under construction it was decided that the site of the original temple would be converted into a traditional wet market, which for some people was an insulting decision. This time however the government didn’t capitulate and a 1200 square meter market known today as the Xinming Road Central Market (新明路中央市場) stands in its place.

The New Confucius Temple (新孔廟)

Construction on the new Yilan Confucius Temple started in 1952 (民國41年) and as mentioned above would end up being a project mired by controversy.

The controversies would continue for the almost two decades it took to complete the project which is coincidentally a reflection of the current state of the temple - Which is suffice to say, one that is not very impressive and is sadly unkept.

In 1954 (民國43年), two years after construction on the temple complex started, the Dacheng Hall would be the first building to be completed making it the oldest structure on site.

It would take until 1969 (民國58年) for most of the other pieces, including the Chongsheng Shrine, Dacheng Gate, side halls, etc. to finally be completed.

One of the common features of Confucian Temples is that they are very minimalist in design and decoration. The Yilan temple however takes that simplicity to an extreme which is not something that was originally intended.

While you’ll find simple wooden carvings and murals on the exterior and interior of Taiwan’s other Confucian Temples, they are all completely absent at the Yilan temple - which is something that could ultimately be rectified if someone actually put a little effort into it

I’m not really able to sugarcoat things when it comes to this Confucius Temple - It isn’t that old but it looks really rundown and uncared for - which is something I was warned about before I went to check it out.

Unlike its counterparts in Taipei and Tainan, this version likely isn’t really considered much of a tourist destination, which is quite evident as when I was there I happened to be the only visitor.

I’m not actually sure why the local government has allowed the temple to become so run down, but I’m sure that with a little TLC it could become an important tourist destination for people visiting Yilan.

Lingxing Gate (櫺星門)

The Lingxing Gate traditionally acts as the entrance to a Confucius Temple.

The gate typically forms a perimeter around the courtyard and the Dacheng Hall with halls connected to the gate on either side of the interior.

In most cases the gate is likely to be the most ornate part of the entire temple with murals to the sides of the main entrance as well as intricate designs on the roof but in the case of the Yilan temple, there is very little in terms of design and comes across as very plain.

Dacheng Hall (大成殿)

The Dacheng Hall which translates loosely as “The Hall of Great Perfection” is the main shrine area of any Confucius temple.

The hall traditionally sits in the middle of a large cobblestone courtyard on an elevated platform with a walkway around the perimeter.

The interior of the hall is a very simple set up with the Confucius Spirit Tablet set up on the main shrine with two plaques above it that read "Education for all" (有教無類), a phrase taken from the Analects of Confucius (論語) and “The Teacher for all Ages” (萬世師表) which is a phrase used to pay honour to Confucius.

There are an additional two shrines in the room found on the left and right walls of the hall which are dedicated to the “Four Sages” (四配) Yan Hui (顏子), Zengzi (曾子), Zisi (子思) and Mencius (孟子). The Four Sages were Confucian scholars who helped to improve upon and spread the philosophy created by their master.

Link: The Four Sages (Wikipedia)

The Dacheng Hall at the Yilan Confucius Temple has a design that differs from most of the other Confucius Temples in Taiwan which to its credit is one of the few aspects of this temple that makes it stand out from the others.

Most notably, from the exterior it looks like it is two storeys in height but in actuality only has one floor with a shrine room that is considerably higher than what you’d generally see in a temple of this kind.

Also of note is the beautifully designed roof which has two different levels with pillars that separate them - while the roof could look better with some of the designs that are common with the other Dacheng Halls around Taiwan, it has been taken over by nature with plants growing on top of it, which I think adds to its beauty.

Chongsheng Shrine (崇聖祠)

The Chongsheng Shrine is traditionally situated behind the main Dacheng Hall in all Confucius Temples. The shrine is used to venerate several generations of the ancestors of Confucius in addition to the various Confucian sages and philosophers throughout history.

This shrine room is not unlike one that you'd find in any large Taiwanese home and acts as an important place for the ancestral worship of Confucius’s descendants, who have spread throughout China, Taiwan and Korea. The Confucius Temples that you find around Asia thus act as an ancestral shrine which offers the family a place to worship.

The Chongsheng Shrine at the Yilan Confucius Temple in particular is a small one and strangely unlike almost all of the other Confucius Temples in Taiwan isn’t open to the public. You can look at the interior of the shrine from the door but there is a gate that blocks access.

Getting There


The Yilan Confucius Temple is situated within the downtown core of Yilan City and is about a ten minute walk from the Yilan Train Station (宜蘭車站).

From the train station simply make a right turn on Yixing Road (宜興路) and once you reach the Donggang Overpass (東港路橋) make a left turn on Xinxing Road (新興路) and keep walking straight until you reach the temple.

If you are driving a car, the temple is located at #170 Xinxing Road (170號新興路) and should have street parking nearby.

The Yilan Confucius Temple isn’t really what I’d consider a tourist destination but if you’re in the area and are looking for something to do, you might want to consider stopping by.

A visit to the temple won’t require much of your time and if you do visit you’ll also be within walking distance of the Dongmen Night Market (東門夜市), the historic Yilan City God Temple (宜蘭城隍廟) and the cutesy Jimmy Park (幾米公園) in front of the Train Station.