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Monday, September 24, 2007

To Touen and Daikei in our (sort of) new car 新車でドライブをした

We have a new car! Sort of. It worked out that my brother-in-law 義理の兄 (or 小舅 to refer to him Taiwanese-style) wanted a car for his daughter now that she's a college student in T'aichung (Taijhong) 台中, so he offered to trade his old Nissan Cefiro 日産・セフィーロ for our even older Honda Accord ホンダ・アコード. Pamela made the swap on Saturday, and today we took our new set of wheels for a spin, driving north to the city of T'aoyuan (Taoyuan) 桃園.

The new car, parked by the side of the road in Taoyuan. Like many Taiwanese, my brother-in-law hung a number of amulets from the rear-view mirror to ensure nothing bad would happen while driving. Considering driving conditions in Taiwan, anything that could possibly keep you safe while behind the wheel of a car should be tried out.

The view while driving north on the No. 1 Freeway.

After arriving in Taoyuan, we had lunch at a teahouse. Built to resemble a traditional Chinese teahouse, the tables were arrayed around a pond filled with carp コイ. Amber got a kick of out watching the fish (I caught her in mid-sentence while saying "Hao pan/Hao ban" 好棒, which means "Great!")

Our reason for driving all the way to Taoyuan today was to visit what the Rough Guide to Taiwan calls "the best preserved Japanese Shinto shrine in Taiwan". The former Touen-jinja 桃園神社 was one of over 200 that used to exist in Taiwan. When the KMT took over in 1945, many of these shrines were torn down, and martyrs' shrines in memory of ROC soldiers were put up in their places. The Taoyuan Martyrs' Shrine is unique, however, in that the original Shinto structures were left untouched.

The original torii 鳥居 seems to have been replaced, but the stone lanterns in front appear to be the originals.

After passing through the torii, the stone basin (now empty of water) where Shinto worshipers used to rinse their hands and mouths before praying at the shrine is on the left, while the old shrine's main office is on the right.

A pair of koma-inu 狛犬 stands guard before the steps leading up to the main shrine building. Unusually, both of them seemed to have their mouths open. Generally at a shrine, the lion on the left has its mouth open to make the sound "ah", signifying birth, while the one on the right will have its mouth closed as it's making the sound "um", or the last sound one makes at the moment of death. Thus, the distance between the two lion statues is supposed to represent one's lifespan.

Inside the main hall, the offering box still stands, while in back is the old honden 本殿, where the kami 神 (perhaps the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu 天照大神) was enshrined. The inner sanctuary was built in the Nagare style, the most common architecture among Shinto shrines.

Looking down at the shrine office. The interior was still very Japanese, with tatami mat and wooden floors and painted sliding doors.

It's too bad there aren't more preserved Shinto shrines in Taiwan. No doubt they were hated symbols of colonial rule (at least in the eyes of the KMT), but the architecture is so much more aesthetically-pleasing than what the Chinese Nationalists erected in their place.

After leaving Touen-jinja, we drove to the nearby town of Tahsi (Dasi) 大渓, famous in Taiwan for its "old street". It really wasn't worth the trouble getting there. A typical case of a street lined with old buildings that somehow was spared the reckless redevelopment that accompanied Taiwan's economic boom, only to be "rediscovered" by a now-affluent society with a lot more leisure time on its hands. As a result, a lot of the buildings have been converted into cookie-cutter tourist shops to cater to the hordes that show up on weekends and holidays.

No "old street" is complete unless it has an angle to attract the tourists, and in Tahsi's case, that hook is dried tofu 大溪豆干. The most famous shop selling the stuff is called "Huang Jih Hsiang (Huang Rih Siang)", which naturally had the punters lining up outside. Pamela, however (a big fan of dried tofu, as is Amber), dismisses their product as being nothing special. My wife, bless her heart, is usually not a sucker for guidebook blurbs!

At the end of the old street is a park that has some nice views.

And so, as the sun set over both Tahsi's old street and the regular part of the town, we headed back to Fengyuan (Fongyuan) 豊原. I did the driving on the way back, and I have to say, I'm pleased with the new car. I'm looking forward to where it will take us on our next adventure, seeking out Taiwan's Japanese past.

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