News Column

Restored Japanese-style building opens to public in Taiwan

May 24, 2014

Ko Shu-ling

A 97-year-old Japanese-style building in Taipei was opened to the public on Saturday following an 18-month restoration and 10-year hiatus.

Liou Wei-gong, head of Taipei City's Department of Cultural Affairs, told a press conference in Taipei that talks about restoring Kishu An, a refined riverside restaurant during the Japanese colonial era, began some 10 years ago and he was glad that it was finally completed during his term.

"This place belongs to everybody, especially those who like to read," he said.

The city has built a three-story structure next to the restored building, which is a historic site, in a bid to develop the complex into a venue for people to read and participate in cultural activities.

Masanori Furukawa, vice chairman of the Wakayama City Council who led a 50-person delegation to attend Saturday's opening ceremony, said Kishu was a Japanese province in what is now Wakayama Prefecture and the southern part of Mie Prefecture.

He felt honored and thankful that Taipei City made efforts to restore the once-ruined Japanese-style wooden building and designate it as a historic site in 2004.

The Hiramatsu family built the Kishu An in 1917 and ran it as a restaurant along the Hsin-tien River. The complex consisted of a three-story main building, a secondary building reserved for dignitaries, and a third building where balls and banquets were held.

The complex was later turned into dormitories and abandoned after the main building and secondary building were destroyed in two separate fires in the 1990s.

Thanks to the efforts of academics and conservationists, the third building was preserved and designated a historic site in 2004. The city decided to turn the complex into what is now the Kishu An Forest of Literature.

Although the city has built a new structure in the complex, it was not until last year that restoration of the third building began.

Kiichiro Hiramatsu, grandson of the former owner of the Kishu An restaurant, told Kyodo News in an interview that back then the Hsin-tien River was full of sweetfish and they would provide boat services and fresh food on board for guests wishing to travel from Hsin-tien to their restaurant.

"It was a very elegant way of having fun," he said.

After people got off, they could clean or shower at the bathroom between the main and secondary building before eating or attending balls, he said.

The restaurant had about 30 people working in its kitchens, which Hiramatsu said was a challenge because they had to feed some 100 to 200 guests every night.

In addition to good food, they also provided entertainment, he said, with 15 to 20 geishas coming in every night to play the shamisen and other musical instruments.

"It was happy time," said Hiramatsu, 81. "My memory about the 12 years I spent here is long and sweet."

Hiramatsu left Taiwan with his family when he was 12 years old after the Japanese surrendered the island in 1945.

Wang Wen-hsing, a Taiwanese writer who moved into the main building with his parents when he was 12 years old, said the restaurant was like the Grand Hotel, a landmark in Taipei.

While the third building of the restaurant was restored and opened to the public Saturday, Wang said he hoped friends from Taiwan and Japan would raise funds to restore the main building which he described as "magnificent."

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Source: Japan Economic Newswire

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