A renovation project to transform an old barracks compound in Hualien County’s Jian Township (吉安) into an artistic community has turned into a historic one, after the discovery of a 101-year-old Japanese shrine.
The local township office launched the renovation project this month to turn the 3,100m2 abandoned Kungchien military camp (宮前營區) and its 11 dilapidated buildings into a family-friendly artistic resort.
It plans to incorporate elements of Hakka and Aboriginal culture into the sites and host a variety of cultural performances, as well as opening several stores to sell handicrafts and agricultural products.
A budget of approximately NT$2 million (US$66,000) has been allocated this year for the first stage of the project, which includes landscaping and road works at the entrance to the site.
However, shortly after the start of the project, contractors unearthed two square stair-like structures along with other concrete relics.
Citing old pictures of the site, Huang Chia-jung (黃家榮), a postgraduate student at National Dong Hwa University’s Department of Taiwan and Regional Studies and a specialist in cultural heritage research, said the square structures were most likely the bases of stone lanterns of a Japanese shrine that used to stand at the site.
“Judging from the pictures and information provided by elderly residents in the neighborhood, the location of the renovation project used to be the entrance to a shrine known as the Yoshino Shrine. After the local government tore down the shrine to make way for the military camp, the bases might have been buried as part of the camp’s foundation,” Huang said.
Huang said that “Yoshino” (吉野, Jiye) was Jian Township’s name during the Japanese colonial era and that the region was the first immigrant village established by the Japanese colonial government in 1910.
On June 8, 1912, the then-Taiwan Governor-General Office’s Colonial Assets Bureau began building the shrine on a plot of land that was marked by the current Jhongshan Road Sec 3, Cingfong 3rd Street, Cingfong 10th Street and Cingfong 11th Street, Huang said.
As for the concrete relics, Huang said that they could be the remnants of guardrails surrounding a monument erected to commemorate the completion of a drainage renovation project.
“The monument used to stand to the west of the shrine’s entrance lane, but was removed after the site’s demolition. It has remained unaccounted for until now,” Huang said.
He urged the township and government agencies to preserve the relics rather than disposing of them as valueless items.
Jian Township Mayor Huang Hsin (黃馨) said the township was of significant historical value not only because of its status as the first Japanese immigrant village, but also because it was traditionally a Hakka community and located near Taroko Aboriginal tribes.
“However, the township office does not have the funding and expertise for heritage preservation and may require assistance from other agencies,” Huang Hsin said.