Few countries have changed as much in half a century as Taiwan did during the 50 years it was a Japanese colony. Also, it can be argued that no part of Taiwan was more influenced by Japan than the east, which until the 20th century saw very little development.
Taiwan was not among the issues when war broke out between China and Japan in the summer of 1894, yet following the Qing Empire’s quick defeat at the hands of Japan’s modern armed forces, the court in Beijing handed control of Taiwan and the Penghu archipelago to Tokyo. Taiwan was already exporting significant quantities of sugar, tea and camphor, and Japan was eager to exploit these and other resources. Between 1909 and 1922, east Taiwan’s first railroad was laid, and trains were soon passing within earshot of one of the region’s most important industrial sites, what’s now called Hualien Sugar Factory. At the same time as the lowlands were being used to produce sugar and rice - and to settle Japanese immigrants - control over the highlands was sought so high-altitude forests could be plundered for valuable timber. Lintianshan (first photo) is a former logging settlement in the East Rift Valley where Japanese influence is still evident.
The Japanese were able to indulge their love of hot springs at several locations in the east, including Antong (安通, second picture shows the springs during the colonial era). The old Japanese-era structure there is currently under renovation, a process which involves replacing a great deal of woodwork.
Not all every remnant of the Japanese period relates to economic development, however. In Hualien County’s Jian Township (花蓮縣吉安鄉), the Buddhist Qingxiu Temple (慶修院, second and third photos) survived post-war anti-Japanese settlement to emerge in recent years as a favorite tourist attraction. However, Shintoism rather than Buddhism was the official religion of Japan until its defeat at the end of World War II, and the colonial authorities made some efforts to promote it in Taiwan, especially after 1937. Shinto jinja were constructed throughout Taiwan, including around 40 in Greater Taipei alone.
The jinja built in 1928 on a hillside overlooking the town now known as Yuli (玉里鎮) suffered grievously after World War II. The main structures (formally called haiden and honden) were demolished. Chunks of stone and concrete remain, more or less where they fell, and among them it's possible to make out a few engravings which suggest that what once stood here wasn't merely utilitarian. For decades, locals used the vacant plot to grow sweet potatoes. Because people live so close to the shrine, it's hard to appreciate any sense of religious awe when approaching. A stainless steel water-tank gets in the way when one tries to photograph the lower torii, and one of the legs has been incorporated into a house!
Since 2008, the remains of the jinja has been a county-level heritage site. Hualien County Government has done a good job tidying the site and providing bilingual signboards, like the one shown in the sixth image, featuring newlyweds and their immediate relatives at the shrine in 1942.
The shrine's stone lions disappeared sometime after 1945, and the Japanese words engraved on the stone lantern columns have been scratched off. But several of the latter are quite intact, like this one our guide introduced:
The surrounding shrubs and flowerbeds attract a lot of butterflies. The first set of stairs from the road has 37 steps. The second has 36, the third 16 and the fourth just 9. These numbers have a religious significance that was too esoteric for me to grasp.
Reaching the top, you'll likely to spend more time admiring the views than pondering the ruins. If you've walked or biked from the railway station - a distance of 1.1km - consider bringing a picnic.
Even those who dislike breaking a sweat will agree the view from the site over Yuli's train station and downtown, as far as the Coastal Mountain Range makes any exertion worthwhile. While there, do look south for the double red arches of the new railway bridge, built to avoid an inconvenient tectonic fault beneath the Xiuguluan River.
East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.