Sun, Apr 15, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Catering to royal blood

A total of 27 members of the Japanese royal family toured Taiwan during 50 years of colonial rule, with local officials going through great pains to ensure a smooth and safe visit

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

A portrait of former Japanese Emperor Hirohito taken in 1934, 11 years after he visited Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

April 16 to April 22

Prince Kotohito, who grew up during the Japanese Empire’s period of Westernization, was accustomed to the once-foreign practice of drinking milk. But milk wasn’t readily available in Taiwan, as dairy was largely absent from the local diet.

So when Kotohito was to visit Taiwan in 1908, finding milk was among the many concerns for the officials at the Governor-General’s Office (today’s Presidential Office), who were responsible for ensuring a perfect trip for the prince. They imported many of Kotohito’s preferred foods from Japan, but milk would spoil during the journey.

Carefully selecting a few cows from three Taiwanese ranches, the officials created an exclusive dairy farm, cordoned off to avoid contamination. By the 1920s, milk was readily available whenever a royal visited during the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945).

Touring various parts of Japanese territory was among the regular duties of members of the royal family, beginning in the 1870s after they reclaimed power through the Meiji Restoration. During 50 years of Japanese rule, a total of 27 royals visited Taiwan 34 times, the highest profile being future emperor Hirohito, who was crown prince when he arrived on the warship Kongo on April 16, 1923.

“In addition to performing their scheduled duties, each and every movement of the royals in Taiwan was a show, a display of authority over their subjects,” writes Chen Wei-han (陳煒翰) in his book, The Visits of Japanese Royals to Taiwan (日本皇族的台灣行旅).


Hirohito stepped ashore in Kirun (today’s Keelung) to the loud cheers of bystanders, officials and thousands of junior high and elementary school students, who were standing in perfect formation and waving the flag of the rising sun. The prince was presented with a book with 50 photographs of Taiwanese scenery selected from more than 1,000 submissions, as well as a sculpture by noted artist Huang Tu-shui (黃土水), created for the occasion. The prince’s cargo arrived shortly after, which consisted of items ranging from soy sauce to ping pong tables as well as cars and horses.

According to Chen, 30,000 people gathered in Kirun that day for the prince to spend just five minutes before he took off in his private train. These were very expensive visits — Chen writes that Hirohito’s visit cost local authorities 60 times more than the annual salary of the highest paid Japanese official in Taiwan.

Hirohito would have a hectic 12 days in Taiwan. From the moment he arrived at his residence, he met a number of Japanese officials and Taiwanese elites, granting them honors, then heading to dinner and finally joining a lantern march in Taipei.

Chen writes that Hirohito’s whirlwind tour was not unique to royals visiting Taipei. A typical day often entailed visits to seven or eight institutions or projects, two to three cultural performances as well as meetings with prominent figures and observations of military facilities and schools. They also were brought to various scenic areas such as Nantou County’s Sun Moon Lake.

The officials even spread a legend about Hirohito: during a visit to a sugar factory, the crown prince was feeling ill due to the heat. The factory built a temporary resting place out of bamboo for the prince, but to everyone’s amazement the long-dead bamboo began to grow leaves. It was a miracle, and proved his divine status as future emperor.

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