2019 / 12月
Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by David Mayer
These days, the phrase “Tai jiu xian”—which usually means “Taiwan Provincial Highway No. 9”—doesn’t necessarily refer to the east coast highway at all, but to a burgeoning connection between Taiwan and Japan’s Kyushu Region.
The island of Kyushu in southwestern Japan was the cradle of ancient Japanese civilization. And, taking a time machine forward to the late 19th century, we find that many of the movers and shakers who pushed Japan’s momentous Meiji Restoration were from Kyushu. More recently, the ROC diplomat Rong Yee-jung was stationed in Fukuoka, Kyushu’s northernmost prefecture, where he served as consul general at the Fukuoka Branch of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Osaka (TECO Fukuoka Branch). After leaving his position at TECO, Rong was hired as a goodwill ambassador for Miyazaki Prefecture in southeastern Kyushu. Just across the Kanmon Strait from Fukuoka, on the island of Honshu, lies Yamaguchi Prefecture. The Japanese people, explains Rong, think of Yamaguchi as part of Kyushu even though it is located on Honshu. Since ancient times, Kyushu and Yamaguchi have constituted a single economic sphere, and their names have often been mentioned in the same breath.
Where stories begin
Across the Kanmon Bridge from the Port of Moji, on Fukuoka’s north coast, is Shimonoseki, the largest city in Yamaguchi Prefecture and the westernmost city on Honshu. The Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, was signed there at the Shunpanro Hotel, an establishment known for its fugu cuisine. Today, the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty Memorial Hall stands where the treaty was signed. Under the terms of that treaty, Taiwan was ceded to Japan.
This change ushered in a new era of close links between Taiwan and Kyushu.
The Port of Moji was opened in 1889, and began receiving bananas from Taiwan in 1903. To ensure timely sales of the easily perishable fruit, sellers developed a “banana hawking chant” (banana no tatakiuri) that can still be heard in the markets of Japan today on weekends.
Of the 19 governors-general who administered Taiwan during the period of Japanese rule, seven were from the Kyushu‡Yamaguchi area.
Many business leaders in Kyushu helped to bankroll the revolutionary activities of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China. Sun gave a lecture at Kyushu Imperial University (today’s Kyushu University) in 1913 and produced a piece of calligraphy (“Study the Way, Love People”) to commemorate the occasion. The work remains on display at the university today.
Kikujiro Saigo, the eldest son of the esteemed Takamori Saigo, once served as the magistrate of Yilan Prefecture, and today’s Memorial Hall of the Founding of Yilan Administration occupies the site of the magistrate’s official residence. To this day, the people of Yilan still fondly recall the hardworking former magistrate.
But of course, ties between Taiwan and Kyushu are not limited to the political sphere. Megumu Suenaga, credited as the creator of the fabulously successful Horai rice (called Penglai rice in Chinese), was from Fukuoka. Meanwhile, two of the best known department stores in all of Taiwan during the Japanese period—Hayashi Department Store in Tainan and Kikumoto Department Store in Taipei—were established by Houichi Hayashi and Eiji Shigeta, both of whom hailed from Yamaguchi Prefecture.
These and countless other snippets of life combine to form a very robust Taiwan‡Kyushu connection.
Japanese people who were born in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period and later returned to Japan after World War II came to be known in Japanese as wansei, the “Taiwan-born.” They may have gone back to Japan, but they identified strongly with Taiwan as the land where they had grown up, worked, dated, and married.
In 2015, a long-retired school teacher in Kyushu’s Kumamoto Prefecture named Namie Takagi wrote a letter to a student she had taught in Taiwan before the war. She was prompted to write the letter after Kano—a film about high-school baseball in Taiwan in the prewar period—hit theaters in Japan. The movie reminded the 106-year-old Takagi of the students she had once taught at Wuri Public School in Taichung Prefecture, so she mailed off a letter to Taiwan. The address no longer existed, but a determined postman tracked down the intended recipient, and the centenarian eventually had a videoconference chat with several of the students that she had taught 80 years before. They cherished the chance to address her as “sensei” again.
Pierre C.C. Chen, consul general at the TECO Fukuoka Branch, shared the story of the late Isaburou Kosuge, a business owner who led employees on a sightseeing trip to Taiwan in 1998. While touring on the east coast, Kosuge learned about the Takasago Volunteers—members of Taiwanese indigenous peoples who fought for Japan in Southeast Asia in WWII—and also happened across a Taiwanese man who had fought for Japan and was taken prisoner alongside Kosuge’s own father in the Philippines. Beginning from 1999, he redefined his company trips to Taiwan as “veterans’ memorial trips,” which he went on to organize annually for 20 years to pay respects to departed soldiers and visit their family members.
Another living link to Taiwan is 83-year-old Hiromitsu Nakaji, chairman of the Yamaguchi Prefecture Japan‡Taiwan Friendship Association and the grandson of Kikumoto Department Store founder Eiji Shigeta. Born in Taiwan, Nakaji returned to Japan at the age of ten. In Taipei, his family lived right next to Jian Cheng Elementary School (today’s Jian Cheng Junior High), and one day when he got lost on his way home from the department store, a kindhearted Taiwanese person made sure he got home okay. Another memory from those days was the sight of US bombing raids: he still vividly recalls walking along a street in Tianmu in northern Taipei and seeing the Governor-General’s Office (now the Presidential Office Building) erupt in flames downtown. “I still remember my time in Taiwan so clearly,” he says.
This past April, a Taiwanese expatriate organization in Fukuoka took advantage of a ceremony being held in an open square near the Kintai Bridge by showing up at the square and seeking signatures for a petition calling for Taiwan’s admission to the World Health Association. The Yamaguchi Prefecture Japan‡Taiwan Friendship Association rented a space there and set up a booth to show its support for the petition drive. Lee Chiehhung, a section chief at the TECO Fukuoka Branch, noted that three-quarters of the people who signed the petition that day were from Yamaguchi Prefecture, and added that it was very moving to see a bunch of old-timers in their 70s and 80s spending the day seeking petition signatures for Taiwan’s sake. But Nakaji downplays what he did: “I just wanted to do a little something to help Taiwan.”
Nakaji feels that his roots are in Taiwan, and says he’ll never forget the place. He once wrote to express his hope that “Taiwan will always be Taiwan.” Taiwan must always be Japan’s friend, he said, if it is to contribute to peace and prosperity in the Pacific region.
Kyushu accounts for about one-tenth of Japan’s land area and a tenth of the national economy, which is why people refer to Kyushu as a “10% economic sphere.” Jennifer H.C. Lo, director of the Taiwan Trade Center, Fukuoka, says that Taiwan is the Kyushu economic sphere’s fourth-largest export market, while Kyushu is Taiwan’s eighth-largest source of imports. Kyushu’s semiconductor industry, in particular, has especially close ties to Taiwan.
Significant cross-border entrepreneurial undertakings are also taking place. Ian Liao, who founded a startup called Golface in Fukuoka in 2017, parlayed his enthusiasm for golf into a successful business model. Conventional golf courses have been slow to adopt technology, which means they spend a lot of money on payroll, so Golface has stepped into the gap by providing tech-based golf club management tools.
Since Japan has the biggest golfing market in Asia, Liao chose to first try his hand in Japan before embarking upon the international market.
Liao says he chose to locate in Fukuoka mainly because life there is a lot like it is in Taiwan. To be sure, one still has to deal with cultural differences. “The Japanese are sticklers for procedure and doing things by the book, for example. You don’t just make unannounced visits to potential clients, but have to be introduced by someone.” However, the Fukuoka City Government offers foreign entrepreneurs a Startup Visa and a one-stop advisory service. The city government is very professional and helpful, he reports.
Looking to the next generation
On the evening when this reporter arrived in Fukuoka, they were holding a concert at the official residence of the TECO Fukuoka Branch’s consul general.
The arrangements for the concert were handled by Keisei Hongo (Wu Qicheng), the chairman of the Kyushu‡Taiwan Cultural Exchange Association. A pair of musicians from Taiwan—Liu Liren (who is also the president of Taiwan Miners Hospital in Keelung) and Chiko Yoshikawa (Lin Qianqiao)—performed classical music before closing out the evening by joining with the guests in singing I Only Care About You, a pop song made famous in both Mandarin and Japanese by superstars Teresa Teng of Taiwan and Hibari Misora of Japan.
Hongo, a native of Taichung and a dentist, emigrated to Japan 30 years ago and settled in Fukuoka. His wife Midori is also a dentist, so they opened a clinic in Fukuoka’s Sawara Ward. As the operators of a neighborhood dental practice, they’ve seen to the needs of many families for up to four generations. One would be hard pressed to find better people-to-people ambassadors for Taiwan.
As a big music aficionado, Hongo often makes an old home he owns in the Japanese countryside available for use in Taiwan‡Japan musical exchange activities. Music knows no borders. By providing the medium for international exchange, it has served as a two-way bridge that has helped the people of Taiwan and Japan to better understand each other.
With a bit of a wistful note in his voice, Rong Yee-jung (who also goes by Yoshitoshi Ebisu, the Japanese reading of his name) comments: “The excellent ties we have between Taiwan and Japan depend in large part on the older generations.” To better familiarize students with Taiwan, he established a Taiwan Studies Program. Taking over as consul general at the TECO Fukuoka Branch, Pierre C.C. Chen has continued Rong’s efforts to strengthen ties among younger people in Taiwan and Japan. On this front, it bears noting that among Japanese high-school students taking part in study-abroad programs in recent years, Taiwan has replaced the United States as the most preferred destination. The TECO Fukuoka Branch noted this trend long ago and began holding informational meetings for those thinking of studying in Taiwan. The meeting held this year in Kumamoto was the fifth one to date. Section chief Lee Chiehhung explains that TECO hopes to encourage more young Japanese people to travel in Taiwan so that our country will occupy a place in the memories of their youth.
The ties that bind Taiwan and Japan are very much a product of our shared history, and the strength of the connection shows through when the chips are down. When a major earthquake struck Kumamoto in 2016, the Taiwanese people generously helped those affected get back on their feet. And in April 2018, the day after the big earthquake in Hualien the Taiwan Trade Center’s Jennifer Lo received messages from Japanese friends working in the same office building who wanted to know where to go to donate to the relief effort. As Keisei Hongo told this reporter: “If you reach out with one hand, the other person will take that hand in both of theirs.” Let’s hope that this deep friendship between Taiwan and Japan will remain strong forever.