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

As mentioned earlier, local officials went through great pains to cater to the royals’ whims: when Prince Yasuhiko said that he wanted to visit with a commoner, a wish that was granted within 24 hours.

In addition to the official Japanese entertainment program, Taiwanese elites were allowed to put on Han Chinese performing art shows for the royals, starting with a concert organized for Princess Tomiko in 1901. These included lion dances, dragon boat races, classical nanguan (南管) and beiguan (北管) musical concerts and Taoist Song-Jiang Jhen Battle Array (宋江陣) demonstrations.

While earlier royals dined exclusively on Western and Japanese cuisine, Kotohito became the first to dine on Taiwanese food during his second visit in 1916, with a banquet catered by chef Lin Chu-kuang (林聚光), who hailed from Taipei’s Dadaocheng (大稻埕) area. Lin also cooked for Prince Naruhisa the following year.


The first royal to visit Taiwan was not as fortunate. It was 1895, and Prince Yoshihisa arrived in Taiwan to help crush local resistance against the advancing Japanese, who had obtained Taiwan by defeating the Qing Empire earlier that year. The prince either died of sickness or was killed by Taiwanese guerrillas, becoming the first member of the Japanese imperial family to perish outside of the country.

In 1901, his widow Princess Tomiko came to Taiwan to mourn her late husband. The governor-general’s office went through great pains to ensure her safety, especially since there was still local unrest and much of Taiwan had poor infrastructure. She was closely guarded at all times, and spent minimal time in public. The security included Tomiko’s meals, with many ingredients imported from Japan and closely inspected by medical staff before serving.

This practice continued throughout Hirohito’s visit, as the Japanese hosts chose to import sugar for his meals from Japan even though Taiwan was a major sugar-producing area. Chen writes that this shows how meticulous the governor-general’s office was in preparing for these visits.

By the time the next royal, Kotohito, visited in 1908 to preside over the opening of the Taiwan Trunk Line (縱貫線) railroad, the Japanese officials were confident enough in their improvements to Taiwan that the visits became less of a headache and more of an opportunity to show off their achievements.

Between 1910 and 1920, royals visited for reasons like ribbon cutting ceremonies and collecting material for educational purposes. But as Japan entered its imperialist period in the 1930s, the trips took on more of a military nature.

Chen writes that like the British royals, Japanese royals were expected to take on military duties. During wartime, several members arrived in Taiwan to conduct military inspections. While females were exempt from the military, they also had duties as Princess Masako arrived in 1938 to boost the morale of wounded soldiers in hospitals.

Career officer Prince Haruhito was the last royal to visit Taiwan in March 1941. The war would intensify soon with the bombing of Pearl Harbor later that year, and there would be no more room for such activities.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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