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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kendō Monkeys

Beautiful weather makes for great hiking, and so do monkeys. Seconds into the start of my walk up Dakeng's 大坑 No. 3 Trail, I encountered a small group of Formosan macaques 台灣獼猴 foraging amongst the foliage. Climbing over the railing to get a better look might not have been a good idea, as it made at least one of them annoyed enough to start approaching me, but it turns out a camera flash makes for an effective deterrence. With all the moving around in the dense undercover, it was impossible to get any decent photographs, with the two shots below the best I could do...:

...but, with no offense to any literally-minded Christians out there (OK, offense intended), it was great having a close encounter with our nearest relatives.

Following my nearly three-hour excursion up the No. 3 and down the No. 4, I rode into downtown Taichung 台中 to check out a Japanese-era kendō 剣道 dōjō 道場 that I had heard about from Andrew Kerslake (of Taiwan in Cycles). Located close to the intersection of Linsen 森林路 and Sanmin 三民路 Roads, the building is a beautiful example of colonial-period architecture. The original martial arts building was constructed in August 1912, before being replaced by a cement brick building in 1930. Half of the interior is covered with tatami 畳 mats, and was used for jūdō 柔道 training, while the exposed wooden flooring was intended for kendō practice:

There are also two wooden buildings, one adjacent to the practice hall, and the other directly behind it. The rear building serves as a museum, though it was undergoing some final touches by workmen when I took off my shoes and had a look inside:

A banyan tree stands tall among the old structures:

The area around the martial arts compound has a number of Japanese-era homes, but, sadly, most are in a state of disrepair. This green house below was a happy exception, and had just been used as a setting for a couple's wedding photographs when I stumbled across it:

A tip of the hat to the Taichung city government for not letting ideological considerations get in the way of historical preservation. And a big thanks to Andrew for telling me about this. However, I must respectfully disagree with his explanation:

"Its significance in Taiwan is that it was used to prepare Taiwanese school children to learn the militarism necessary to fight for the emperor."

Actually, as a couple of plaques on-site make clear, these buildings served as a training center for guards at the Taichung Penitentiary (which was built on the same grounds in 1895). Even today, kendō is an important part of training for many police officers in Japan. After all, it instills discipline, builds stamina, develops a sense of timing and comes in handy for those who must wield a baton or a stick in their line of work. Though kendō was banned in Japan after World War II by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces (SCAP) 連合国軍最高司令官総司令部 (as were all other martial arts), the proscription was short-lived, and by 1950 it was allowed to be practiced again. For more on kendō, follow the Wikipedia link.

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