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.

Puji Temple (普濟寺)

Whenever you see travel articles about Taiwan, you’re likely to see the same themes mentioned over and over again - This country prides itself on its culinary prowess, its beautiful landscapes, the friendliness of its people and of course the thousands of 7-11s and ornate temples that line the streets of this tiny island nation.

When it comes to promoting Taiwan to the outside world, the food and the friendliness of the people of this country are often good enough reasons to attract a bit of attention. 

There is however a lot more to this country than friendliness and food but you’ll rarely find much else in terms of in-depth articles from official sources or the Taiwanese media which markets the country to both domestic and international tourists in the same way. 

For travellers who only have a short time to visit the country, there is a wealth of things to do here that cater to particular interests and hobbies.

Unfortunately the biggest problem is that information for a lot of these places isn’t readily available or even useful when it is.

As the government aims to promote tourism and attract more foreign visitors than ever before, these issues will eventually have to be solved to help make travelling here much easier for the average non-Chinese speaking visitor.

When I first arrived in Taiwan, one of the first things that caught my attention was the ornate temples that are found throughout the country.

Longshan Temple, Xing-Tian Temple and the Xiahai City God temple for example have all been promoted really well and each of them attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. This made learning about the temples really easy. When it came to the other temples however, I had to spend a considerable amount of time researching their history to learn about them.

So even though those three are beautiful examples of Taiwanese temple architecture and design with interesting histories, you might be surprised to find out that you can easily find larger, older and more beautiful temples in other parts of the country which pretty much receive little-to-no attention from foreign tourists. 

Some might argue that not all of these historic temples want thousands of foreign tourists invading each and every day while others might insist that it would be extremely difficult to promote all of these temples to foreign travellers, but that’s not the point.

No one expects an article about all of these places, but one would hope that the situation continues to improve so that people can make much more informed decisions while visiting. 

Today’s post is about one of Taipei’s under-appreciated temples which is situated only a short walk away from the popular Beitou Hot Spring resort area.

It would only make sense that this century-old Japanese Colonial Era temple, one of the few left remaining in Taiwan, be promoted to tourists who are visiting the area but so far it remains somewhat of a secret despite some vague signage.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last year searching for the remnants of Taiwan’s Japanese Colonial Era to learn their history and take photos.

This particular temple was on my list of places to visit for quite a while but when I finished my research about Taipei’s Huguo Rinzai Temple (臨濟護國戰寺) and realized the historic relation of the two buildings, I decided to make a visit to Beitou’s Puji Temple (普濟寺) as soon as I could find a free day with some agreeable weather!

History - Japanese Buddhism in Taiwan

The ‘Japanese Colonial Era’ (日治時代) began on April 17th 1895 when representatives from the Qing signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki (下関条約) which signalled the end of the first Sino-Japanese War. The treaty, which is still a sour point in Sino-Japanese relations today forced the Qing empire to cede both territory and copious amounts of cash to the Japanese Empire.

When the Colonial Era started, the Japanese were quick to take care of any opposition to their control and also wasted no time in their effort to develop the island with modern infrastructure and also put systems in place to create a thriving economy that would contribute to the Japanese.

As Taiwan was considered to be an important part of the empire, both strategically and economically, the Japanese took special effort to construct buildings of Japanese cultural influence while at the same time building schools, banks, roads, etc.

The buildings of Japanese cultural origin which include the various Martial Arts Halls (武德殿), Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples, etc. were constructed with the sole intention of helping to ‘convert’ the people of Taiwan into loyal citizens of the Japanese empire. The goal was ultimately to have an island of people who were Japanese in everything but ancestry.

Buddhism, having established a foothold on the island several centuries earlier was one of the tools that the Japanese used to help bring the two peoples together. Initially, the Japanese brought Buddhist monks with them to serve roles in the military as chaplain-missionaries offering spiritual guidance during the initial years of the occupation.

The monks who came to Taiwan eventually began to construct language schools and charity hospitals where they would focus on improving the lives of average Taiwanese citizens as well as promoting Japanese-style Buddhism. This effort didn’t last long however thanks to the language barrier and the fact that Japanese Buddhism was viewed by the locals as a colonial system of beliefs which only benefitted the colonial power.

The lack of results in terms of cultural conversion led to funding ultimately being cut off by the Japanese central government and forced the monks who had come to Taiwan to focus less on the native population and more so on the benevolence of the Japanese people who migrated to the island.  

Despite Buddhism being a tool used by the Japanese to help endear the people of Taiwan to their new colonial rulers, the religion had taken a major hit in both its support and its funding within Japan thanks to the Meiji Restoration (明治維新).

The restoration which started in 1868 sought to modernize and reform the country and focused its efforts on aspects of society which were deemed to be ‘feudalistic’ or ‘foreign.’ Buddhism, despite its immense importance to the development of Japanese culture was a religion from outside of Japan and was thus viewed as inferior to state Shintoism.

Interestingly, even though Buddhism was originally used as a way for the colonial powers to endear themselves to the people living in Taiwan, the religion ultimately became a tool for the people of Taiwan to use in an attempt to brush shoulders with the higher-ups in Japanese society to gain political or economic favour and also to use religion as a cover for activities that the colonial powers might frown upon.

Today, most people in Taiwan, if asked would say that they are Buddhist. The history of Buddhism in Taiwan is a long and confusing one and despite the religion being a tool for state control (for both the Japanese and the Chinese Nationalists) the legacy of the Japanese Colonial Era can still be felt today as most of the largest Buddhist organizations operating in Taiwan today adhere to the philosophy and practices of the schools of Buddhism brought to Taiwan by the Japanese.

Puji Temple (普濟寺)

The relatively unknown Puji Temple, one of the few remaining Japanese-style temples in Taiwan today sits quietly on a hill above the popular hot spring resort area in Taipei City’s Beitou District (北投區). The temple, which dates back to 1905 (明治38年) is now over 110 years old and is considered one of Taipei’s most important historic sites.

The temple, which was originally named “Tetsu’shinin Temple” (鐵鎮院) was constructed with funds donated by Japanese railway workers and engineers who wanted to celebrate the completion of the project with a newly built temple.

The (now defunct) Tamsui Rail Line (淡水線) was completed in 1901 and followed pretty much the same route as Taipei’s Danshui MRT Line (淡水信義線) today. When the rail line was completed it provided service between Tamsui and Taipei as well having a special off-shoot line of the railway which transported tourists between (the former) Beitou Railway Station (北投車站) and the Xinbeitou Train Station (新北投車站).

Hot Spring culture, known as “Onsen” in Japan has been popular throughout Japanese history, so when the Japanese arrived in Taiwan, they wasted little time developing Beitou, which was then known as Hokutō Village into one of the premiere hot-spring resorts in the empire - one so luxurious that even Prince Hirohito enjoyed a stay!

Puji Temple, which was constructed on a hill above the hot spring resort area belonged to the Shingon school (真言宗) of Buddhism, one of the most history and most widely practiced schools of Buddhism in Japan, founded by Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師), one of the most prolific figures in the history of Japanese Buddhism.

 Note: Kōbō-Daishi has appeared on my blog before @ Taipei Mazu Temple

The temple which was constructed with traditional Japanese architecture and beautiful Hinoki cypress is extremely well-preserved and is one of the finest examples of Japanese temple architecture in Taipei today. The small temple, which has only been renovated once since its original construction maintains the original design.

The roof of the main hall features a typical Japanese swallow-tail or hip-and-gable roof in its original state and still in excellent condition. The roof has yet to be restored, so the tiles on the top have faded in colour from the original black but despite their age are still quite impressive.

One of the most important things to notice on the exterior of the temple are the bell-shaped windows on either side of the main entrance which are known as katōmado (火灯窓) and are common in Japanese temples, shrines and even in castles built after the sixteenth century but rare here in Taiwan.

The interior of the temple itself hasn’t changed much in the years since the end of the colonial era - the interior design remains the same and the religious ceremonies that are held within still adhere to the original Japanese way of worship. The interior is almost perfectly square in dimensions and when you enter there is an elevated area covered in tatami mats where people sit to meditate. The wooden beams on the ceiling and to the sides are all large single-piece hinoki cypress and even today a century after the temple was finished still smell amazing.

If you have a keen eye, you’ll notice that the two bells to the sides of the entrance are not the originals and are only about 30-40 years old evidenced by the ROC era dates (民國) on the side. I asked the monk who was at the temple what happened to the original bells but he didn’t have any idea and was surprised to find out that the bells in the room weren’t actually the originals.

The temple’s main shrine is dedicated to Guanyin (觀音菩薩) but interestingly the Guanyin that is worshipped inside is a bit different than the typical Guanyin that you’ll find in other areas around Taiwan. This Buddha is a special one that is known as the ‘Protector Deity of Hot Springs’ (湯守觀音) and sits cleverly above the hot springs resort protecting the people who come to visit.

When the Japanese Colonial Era ended in 1945, ownership of the temple transferred to a new Buddhist association which then in turn changed the name to Puji Temple. Initially the temple was used by Tibetan lamas who escaped to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalists. The temple was then later transferred to the ownership of the same Rinzai Buddhist association who control the beautiful Huguo Rinzai Temple (臨濟護國戰寺) in Taipei.

Today the temple sits peacefully and somewhat secretly on a hill above the popular hot-spring resort area. There are signs that lead tourists to the temple, but it seems like most of them are unclear and without the aid of Google Maps, I would have had a hard time finding it myself. The relative seclusion and the beautiful view of Datun Mountain (大屯山) from the front entrance however make for a zen-like experience.

For tourists there isn’t a whole lot to see when you visit this beautiful temple - you don’t need a lot of time but if you are interested in Taiwan’s history, a quick visit to this century-old temple should be able to shed a little bit of light on a period of Taiwan’s history that is quickly disappearing as time goes by.

Getting There


Getting to Puji Temple is quite easy if you are visiting Taipei's Beitou District - Simply take the MRT to Xinbeitou Station (新北投站) and when you exit, walk up either side of the road that takes you to the Hot Spring resort area. You'll see signage along the way that will lead you to the temple. It is a short ten minute walk from the MRT station and is very close to Beitou's Thermal Valley which is also a pretty popular spot for tourists.