Japanese colonial houses -- why is no effort being made to preserve them?

Even though most of them would fall over if you leaned on them, I think those dwindling old Japanese colonial-era wooden houses have more character and aesthetic value than all of Taiwan’s concrete slab houses put together! Am I the only one here who sees this? To me, there is something very warm and inviting about an weather-worn wooden house with a shady interior. I was born and raised in the rural Northeastern USA, and have lived in Japan, so go figure. Even the most beautifully built concrete house just can’t compare.

It seems to me the local people here in Taiwan don’t share my love of these houses. I have a lot of theories as to why, all of which are probably right to some extent. Can anyone verify these for me? I’d especially appreciate the opinion of anyone here who’s lived in one of these houses, or even just set foot in one before.

[ul][li]Perhaps wooden houses are just impractical in Taiwan because of the climate. They rot easily, and attract mice, roaches, and termites easier than concrete slabs.[/li]
[li]They remind Taiwanese of rural poverty and colonial oppression, both of which are within living memory. Peoples who’ve seen rural destitution with their own eyes don’t tend to romanticize rustic houses, or anything rural, as “quaint”.[/li]
[li]Wood is scarce and expensive in Taiwan, and doesn’t last long, making these houses expensive to renovate and maintain. Please note that though the Japanese continue to build with wood, they’re far richer than the Taiwanese, and have decimated SE Asia’s woodlands to do so.[/li]
[li]Since these houses are rarely more that 2 storeys, they can’t house as many people, and from a landlord’s perspective, don’t generate as much revenue.[/li]
[li]Taiwanese people, especially younger ones, just don’t have the cultural appreciation and aesthetic eye for wooden buildings that Japanese and New Englanders have, and so just don’t care whether they stay or go.[/li][/ul]

Because they are Japanese.

Because a quick profit can’t be made from preserving them.

You know down around Hualian there’s a little shrimp of a town (memory’s a bit foggy but think it’s called Sen Rong) that’s almost entirely Japanese-era architecture. It’s a beautiful place along one of the river gorges parallel to Tarokes. The locals keep it meticulously clean and the houses are in great shape - or were when I visited there about 5 years back.

When I first arrived here I was interested in renting an older Japanese house. The staff at my school, although very helpful, were not at all impressed with the idea. When pressed as to why they wouldn’t even go to see it with me I was told that “those houses are usually haunted with ghosts”. I eventaully found a house which is the older style Taiwanese conrete house which has worked out really well for me as I have an enclosed yard for my dog. I am still very attracted to the Japanese style though, esthetics wise.

I do know a couple of people who did rent one a short while ago and was able to get a good look around. Concrete floors with a gutter running through the kitchen and bathroom :o . I thought that would have been removed years ago!

It did have the most ingenious bathroom set up however: three rooms, one with a toilet, one with a urinal and one with a shower, toilet and urinal. The two with just toilet or urinal had saloon type swinging half doors into the kitchen!

The bedrooms were kind of neat however, All had shoji screen doors across the length of the room, raised wood floors and built in cupboards along one wall. One also had slidding wood doors leading out into the street. I’m not so sure that that is an added attraction unless you want to give someone a quick getaway exit!

Although the guys seemed to like the house they moved out quite quickly due to terrible leaking in rainy weather.

The walls which slid wide open across the front of the house were pretty cool as it really did give one the feeling of being “inside, outside”. Personally though, I would open them up unless I had a private yard as this house opened right onto the street.

I think that along with the “ghost” thing, there is also a feeling of negative history attached to many Japanese style homes from that era. There are a number of these houses here in Hualien and most residents appear to be quite elderly (as in long term) or the houses remain vacant and fall to ruin. There is, in fact, one area where an enclosed compound has completely reverted to a jungle type area.

Sounds very nice. Does anyone have any more details? Something like road number and approximate distance along that road would be great.

I think most of those old Japanese houses are owned by the power comapnies.

One about 5 doors down form me went up in flamesd a few months ago. It burnt down pretty quick.


south of hualien is a town called guang fu. until the WTO, they still had sugar cane up all over the place. taisugar has a processing plant in guangfu. the housing is all from the japanese days and still occupied. check it out befroe they pul em down. quite nice just to stroll about.

there is also a logging camp just south of fenglin that is still full of the old japanese architecture.

There is a nice icecream factory shop at Guangfu. Photos of it and the surrounding area at;

A friend I met at university in the U.K. is from Fenglin. I was there one Chinese New Year. I haven’t seen that logging place yet though; sounds good.

Still hoping for any information on Senrong.

The Japanese era houses are beautiful, architecturally, you are right, wandering dave, and they should be preserved. But they are also fire traps now, most of them seem abandoned, and yes, because they are reminders of the japanese colonialists, the local people don’t really care all that much? We see them with different eyes.

You should start an association to preserve them, if you feel strongly enuf about this issue. There is probabaly a local group too, mostly history buffs and architects. Contact them. Start a movement.

But if you really like Japanese houses, just fly to Japan for the real thing. They are memories of oppression here. No?

What about the old French buildings in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos? British buildings in India, Burma, and Pakistan? Should these buildings not be preserved because “they are memories of oppression”?

Nice nickname.
“Whoa Fee / You try to live a life that’s completely free / You’re racing with the wind you’re flirting with death / So have a cup of coffee and catch your breath.” (If you don’t get this reference, never mind)

Anyway, I saw the same phenomenon in Harbin – old Russian buildings, though far more aesthetically pleasing than Chairman Mao’s gray concrete boxes, were given no respect by the locals, who had no qualms tearing them down or letting them go completely to pot.

I think that the Chinese neither take well to reminders of a colonial presence / threat, nor are they picky about the outer appearance of buildings. Big generalizations, but generally true.

“Whoa Fee / You try to live a life that’s completely free / You’re racing with the wind you’re flirting with death / So have a cup of coffee and catch your breath.” :smiley: :laughing: :smiley: :laughing:

I had the pleasure of living in a japanese house for three years. It was even complete with my wife’s Japanese grandmother who has lived there for more than fifty years.
I can say that efforts are being made to preserve these houses but strangely brought on by an incident where a chap cut down the trees outside his Japanese house. This seems to have spurred the government to retain some of Taiwan’s Japanese colonial heritage. My wife’s Obajan is now being frequently visited by various government historians and other type bods who are researching the viability of restoring her house to it’s former glory. She’s chuffed to bits by it all especially as she has to suffer inferior repairs on her house slapped up by uncle bing lang and his mate. Basically there isnt a workforce skilled enough and/or bothered enough to do a good job.
So the scheme is in it’s early days but never-the-less being probed.

I’m guessing the issue relates more to money than to lack of aesthetic appreciation. To begin with, the land on which such houses sit must be veritable gold mines; any developer with a bit of sense would wait until the right economic condition prevails and then construct a medium-rise apartment building to maximise profits. On the other hand, those houses owned by companies or the government are often earmarked for public works construction (e.g. there was a house near Yang Kang St that was recently demolished to allow construction of a new MRT station).

There is a famous dance studio on Zhongshan Road Section 2 that had been slated to receive a historical designation, which would have entitled it to a complete renovation. SOme developers were not too happy about this and the building was “mysteriously” burned to the ground one night. Mayor Ma was pissed and the Taipei City Government was directed to rebuild the whole thing in the same style, with original techniques and materials, where possible.

You can see this building now at Zhongshan Road, Section 2, Lane 48, #10. It’s just up the road from SPOT, the former US Ambassador’s residence, and very close to the new Zhongshan Community Sports Centre.

Out here, there are quite a few. I may go photograph one in particular tomorrow. There what appears to be an abandoned Japanese officer’s quarters that, from the looks of the more modern lights inside, must have also been used by the local miltary until about 10 years ago. I ask people why no one renovates it as a guest house and the reply is usually that there would be minimal profits in it, and I tend to agree with them. I’m also noticing a dwindling number of the traditional brick+wattle&dob traditional Chinese houses that are even close to original. In fact, I’ve only found one, and it is uninhabited. My wife was born in one, but one of her uncles torn part of it down and build a concrete slab structure there to retire to…unfortunately dying shortly afterward…I see a lot of traditional Chinese houses around here that must have collapsed in earthquakes (which is probably why people shy away from them).

In Alishan, the Alishan House Hotel is an old Japanese era building. When I was there recently, the manager said that it is extremely difficult to renovate Japanese style buildings as they are built differently from the style in Taiwan and most other places. It has to do with the frame. You can’t just add on or start changing things without a lot of hassles.

The little village, Qingtong I think, at the end of the Pingxi small train line has a perfectly preserved old Japanese villa built with wood from Alishan. It sits right by the river on a 1/4 acre of lot, surrounded by gardens. The area around it is being fixed up so I aasume they are going to do a little work on the villa. It doesn’t need much, just a paint job perhaps and a few minor repairs and a little gardening work to get rid of the dingy look it has about it. Of course some might think it is fine they way it is.

In Dapeng Bay, there are a number of old Japanese era buildings that have, until recently, been used by the military. The building that is going to house the new Dapeng Bay Tourist centre is a gorgeous old thing, with long arched verandas on the first and second floors. It has a real southern (US) colonial feel to it. Can’t wait to see it when it’s all fixed up.

That makes sense, Mucha Man. After all, Japanese have never built houses intended to last. They live on a very volatile archipelago, just bursting with hardwood forests, after all. Even nowadays, many Japanese knock down and rebuild their house every 20 years, or every generation. They don’t renovate or add on – they just redo the whole damn thing!

In light of this, I guess you could see Taiwan’s Japanese houses as kind of like lucky survivors. They weren’t built to last, but somehow they did.

One of the reasons they rebuild there wooden houses every 20 years is that they depreciate to $0 after 20 years. Smart Japanese build their houses out of concrete so that they can get some money for the land and the HOUSE, instead of just the land minus the cost of tearing down the old house.