Penghu is turning aspects of its military past into attractions to promote local tourism, according to the Penghu National Scenic Area Administration.
A total of NT$30 million (US$1 million) will be invested in a project to rehabilitate five fleet depots in Wangan Township (望安) to recreate the historic scenery of World War II, when Taiwan was under Japanese rule, the agency said.
The depots were used by the Japanese army for their Shinyo boats — suicide craft capable of carrying up to 250kg of explosives, tourism official Tsai Chi-hsien (蔡啟賢) said.
“We are cleaning up the tunnels and forts, so tourists can come and explore the military bases themselves, sit in Shinyo boat replicas and take pictures with models of Japanese soldiers,” Tsai said.
He said the restored historic facilities are expected to be open to the public by next summer, with the aim of attracting 200,000 more tourists per year to Penhgu. Currently, the island receives about 500,000 tourists every year, with only about 5 percent of them being foreign nationals. Tsai said the new attractions could raise the number of foreign tourists to Penghu, especially as many visitors from Japan and China are interested in World War II history.
Another highlight of the project is a 15-minute documentary that tells the stories of Japanese and Taiwanese soldiers during the war who thought they would never be able to leave the island alive. The documentary, directed by Khan Lee (李崗) — brother of world-renowned director Ang Lee (李安) — features an interview with an 89-year-old former Shinyo squadron member, Yoshiaki Haza.
Haza was invited by the Tourism Bureau to visit Penghu last year and said going back to the island had been a dreamlike experience. In a memoir of his war experiences, Haza said he and his military comrades watched the suicide boats being destroyed after Japan had lost the war.
“The fact that Shinyo faded in such a modest way was beyond our imagination,” Haza said. “We felt empty.”
After World War II, the Republic of China government took control of the depots and they continued to serve as depots for a nearby army base. However, they are mostly abandoned now.
About two years ago, three Control Yuan members decided that the depots could be turned into tourism attractions after conducting a field trip to Penghu, which led to the island’s bid to re-position itself in the tourism market.
“We came to realize that storytelling is the most effective way to promote ourselves, and Penghu has a lot of stories to tell,” Tsai said.