Building Cultural Exchange - Japanese Invasion of Taiwan 1895-1945

Building Cultural Exchange - Japanese Invasion of Taiwan 1895-1945

Building Cultural Exchange
Japanese Invasion of Taiwan 1895-1945


By Grace Lai

Graduate student in History of Art, SOAS, University of London. Research interest lies in engaging visual material as decoders of the immaterial, focusing on reading architecture as a cultural construct of visuality.



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Figure 1: Jiufen, Taiwan. (Source:



Within rolling lush mountains of Northeast Taiwan, nestles a small village teaming with tiered wooden terraced dwellings that jostle between narrow cobblestone corridors navigated by steep stairs. Jiufen (九份) retains an old world charm that sets the scene for the paradisiacal array of cuisine on offer. The visual allure of Jiufen (九份) serves the visual formation of the beloved Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away (2001). Apart from a source of creative inspiration, the architecture of Jiufen (九份) also shadows Japan’s colonization of Taiwan in 1895.



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Figure 2 First Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895 (Source:



On the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese war in 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan, who ruled over the island for fifty-one years. The raw resources of Taiwan proved beneficial to Japan’s expanding economy, while its geographic location provided a strategic base for Japan’s navy, and the nation’s quest for a greater empire. In the initial throws of Japan’s modernisation of the Meiji Empire, the response to the colonisation of Taiwan was a hasten one. The resulting Taiwan Affairs Bureau debated between a French and British model, assimilation convention or separate governance. However, armed resistance by inhabitants of Taiwan soon ruled out political integration. In the period between 1895 and 1897, Japanese Governors relied on the military takeover and local pacification that were met with opposition and marked out almost five months of sustained warfare, followed by intermittent partisan attacks, till 1902.



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Figure 3: Japanese Woodblock Print (Source:



There are various positions regarding the Japanese rule of Taiwan. The two polarising perspectives rest on an anti-imperialist orientation that frames harsh Japanese rule versus appraisals of the achievements brought by colonial rule Warfare saw the destruction of walled cities, as well as the spread of epidemic diseases, particularly malaria. Local people were apprehensive of invading forces, regardless of the Japanese military or the resistance. Though colonisation faces many pitfalls, it fosters a channel for cultural exchange. Taiwan’s positioning as a separate province of China in 1887 saw its inhabitants distancing from Chinese nationality. Japan’s occupation of Taiwan cultivated new spaces for cultural encounters, in a society that was still in search for a united front.

Undercurrents of cultural exchange occur through various channels, trade routes, and foreign exchanges. War is destructive towards indigenous cultures by usurper powers, but can nevertheless also be seen to create new spaces for cultural encounters. Taiwan vernacular is inherited from the tradition of architecture in Southern China. However, there are also references to Japanese building techniques and styles; this includes screened doors and lattice patterns. The breath of this article prevents further dissection regarding the extent of Japanese influence on Taiwanese vernacular. A perusal of mapping the influences of Taiwanese architecture of the 19th century may prove rich research for teasing out the undercurrents of national identity and culture of Taiwan.