Mon, Aug 20, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Locked Japanese colonial-era safe keeping its secrets

By Chang Yi-chen and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A Japanese colonial-era safe that has so far resisted efforts to crack it sits on the floor in the Dongshan Township office in Yilan County on Friday.

Photo: Chang Yi-chen, Taipei Times

A Japanese colonial-era safe in the Dongshan Township (冬山) office in Yilan County that has not been opened in about five decades has frustrated the attempts of a visiting Japanese safecracker to open it.

The safe has been in the possession of the township office since it was first established as the Touzan Village public office in the 1920s, Township Mayor Hsieh Tsan-hui (謝燦輝) said.

The safe dates to Japan’s Taisho Period (1912-1926) and the katakana script on the dial is no longer legible, he said.

The safe was found four years ago among other artifacts from the Japanese-era office when the township office moved to new premises, he said.

Asking retired staff if anyone knew the combination or knew what happened to the key proved fruitless, and his staff learned that the safe had not been opened for 50 years, he said.

Over the years many of the original office’s records were lost, and today all that remains from that era is the safe, he said.

“Everyone is curious what’s inside,” he said.

Last year Hsieh posted an advertisement looking for skilled safecrackers, and offering NT$5,000 to anyone who could open the safe. Several efforts were made, but all were unsuccessful, so this year, he raised the reward to NT$10,000.

Learning about the safe after seeing a story in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper), a Japanese television station contacted the township to arrange for an expert to look at the safe.

The expert said the probability of cracking the safe was high, so the station sent a safecracker who is a regular on its programs and, according to station personnel who accompanied him to Taiwan, is known for being able to open even the most challenging locks.

Despite his confidence when he first arrived at the office on Thursday, his first day’s efforts were unsuccessful, Hsieh said.

On Friday, the safecracker began his second attempt at 9am and worked until at least 5pm, with a crowd of people eager to see what might be in the safe, Hsieh said.

The safecracker plans to return today or tomorrow, but without the the television crew, he said.

The safecracker said there are 30,000 possible combinations for the lock, and the rusting of the lock’s mechanisms has made it difficult to sense when the numbers line up.

However, he believes he is 75 percent on the way to cracking the safe, and is certain he will succeed in his next attempts, he said.

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