Category Archives: Architecture

My trip to Nagoya

On March 1, after 4 years in Japan, I finally made it to the country’s third-largest metropolitan region for the very first time. As far as tourist destinations, Nagoya ranks pretty low due to an almost total lack of old buildings or noteworthy landmarks, but like anyplace else there is a certain local quality, the experience of which is itself worth the visit.

In retrospect, I had perhaps one of the most peculiar two-day visits to Nagoya that anyone has ever had. The first day began with a brief Shinkansen ride from Kyoto Station to Nagoya Station, at which point Aceface picked me up in his car, took me briefly by Nagoya Castle, and then drove over to the heavily Brazilian Homigaoka public housing project. (I did a separate post on this part of the visit which you can see here.) After seeing Toyota City’s Braziltown, we made a brief stop at the Toyota City Hall on our way back to the Nagoya, where we joined Aceface’s Mongolian wife and their son, as well as Younghusband and his wife, for a Tsagaan Sar, aka Mongolian New Year, party. (Younghusband blogged about this party.) Much lamb was involved, as well as Mongolian karaoke, being made to dress up in traditional Mongolian robes, and the drinking of Chinghis (Ghenghis Khan) brand vodka.

Here is a Flickr-Flash slideshow of the Mongolian party, in which you can see me and Younghusband being dressed up (although photos with his face are left out for his blog anonymity).

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Observations from jogging at the Imperial Palace

Today Mrs. Adamu and I went jogging around the Imperial Palace moat, an activity that is apparently all the rage these days. Mrs. Adamu is training for a half marathon, but I do one slow lap myself just to burn some calories. It is easy to see why the palace area has become a popular place to exercise – it is an unimpeded, smoothly paved path, the view is gorgeous, and it’s easily accessible from Otemachi or other surrounding stations. The downside, of course, is that the jogging traffic has begun to resemble a busy freeway, forcing slowpokes like me to constantly watch my back so as to not get in the way of the more serious athletes. Normal tourists visiting the grounds are also quite visibly inconvenienced by bespandexed Tokyoites rushing by.

But all in all it’s a great experience. Today was particularly eventful:

  • Happy Takeshima Day! The holiday set up by the Shimane Prefectural government in 2005 to remind their fellow citizens that the disputed rocks belong to Japan, not Korea. This is apparently a big deal to right wing groups (see Roy’s earlier post on this), so to commemorate, one decided to use its megaphones outside the Social Democratic Party headquarters to loudly berate them with accusations of treason for close ties to North Korea. BTW, these guys might think their country has a valid claim to the Takeshima rocks, but stamp expert/blogger Yosuke Naito shows us some fairly convincing Korean stamps that say otherwise.

  • Workers were emptying the shuttered Palace Hotel of furniture and other items. The hotel was set up in 1961, just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics,  on  the site of what was once part of the Imperial Household Ministry and then a GHQ-run hotel “for the exclusive use of buying agents from abroad.” While it must have looked quite modern in 1961, more than 40 years later the design resembles a Holiday Inn and noticeably clashes with the more refined palace across the street. The current building will be torn down, with a renewed Palace Hotel will set to open on the site in 2012. We started jogging the imperial grounds in mid-January, just weeks before the Palace Hotel shut down. We thankfully at least got to take a peek at the lobby before it was relegated to the history books. The inside looked much grander than the exterior, with obsequious front desk staff, expensive-looking lounges, and old-school carpeting and wood-panel walls. By far the neatest item in the lobby, however, was a wood-carved clock, shaped like a world map with digital displays showing the time in major cities. It was considered cutting-edge at the time it was unveiled at the time of the hotel’s opening. The thing just oozes 1960s modernity – I could picture this on the wall of an enormous workroom full of office ladies working on typewriters (click for full size. Thanks Yomiuri!):
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    Amazingly, no one knows who designed or manufactured the clock despite its iconic status, but one thing is for certain – it will live on. Though originally set to be destroyed after the hotel closed, at the last minute a German patent office decided to take it (for no charge except shipping costs) out of the management’s nostalgia for frequent stays at the hotel during business trips to Tokyo.

Photo festival part 2-B: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part B-Cemetary

This is the third installment in my rapid photo gallery posting series to prepare for my new camera, following Part 1 Osaku amateur photographers in Akihabara and Part 2-A: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part 1-Slum.

Last summer when I was in Taipei I stayed for a week and change at my friend Cerise’s house, located in a nice new looking development up the hill a bit from Xinhai Station, on the Muzha MRT elevated train line. The area immediately around the station looks to have been a center of carpentry and similar workshops since well before the station was built in the early 1990s (Muzha was Taipei’s first MRT line, built from 1988 and opening in 1996), and still surround it.

Behind the station are several of the aforementioned workshops, beyond which is a hill, upon which is a traditional Chinese cemetery of the kind popular in Taiwan. This is not particulary weird, but what is kind of weird is that in between the cemetery hill and the immediate vicinity of the station is a small cluster of private homes that I can’t describe in one word any more appropriate than “slum”. These photographs are of the cemetery itself, and Part 2-A: Slum is the gallery of photographs of the area from the station to the area to the cemetery proper.

All photographs here taken with a Canon 300D camera with 17-85mm EFS lens, on August 1, 2008.

Here are a flash slideshow, recommended for full-screen mode, followed by HTML for the flash challenged.


Here is the view from the path leading up the hill into the cemetery.

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Good news for Losheng?

Since I visited the Japanese colonial era Losheng Leprasorium in Northern Taipei last summer I have been keeping tabs on developments in the battle between government officials trying to destroy it and preservationists trying to…preserve it.  Things had been looking grim when elderly wheelchair-bound residents were dragged out of their homes, but a high level apology may mean that things are getting sorted out.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) yesterday offered an apology to patients with Hansen’s disease— also known as leprosy — for the “grievance” and “unequal treatment” they have suffered in the past, promising that his administration would take good care of their nursing and medical needs. The apology came six months after the enactment of the Act of Human Rights Protection and Compensation for Hansen’s Disease Patients (漢生病病患人權保障及補償條例), which detailed measures the government must take to care for leprosy sufferers.

[...]

“I will not accept the government’s apology, because they did not apologize for what they did to me in December,” said Lan Tsai-yun (藍彩雲), a Losheng resident who was removed by the police from the Joan of Arc House. “I asked them to give me two more weeks to pack, but they refused. They cut the power and water while I was still inside, then they cut through the door with an electric saw and took me away by force. But look, Joan of Arc House still stands there today, a month after that incident — why couldn’t they give me two more weeks?”


Here is a video from Taiwanese TV showing activists being dragged away when protesting in support of Losheng preservation back in December. At exactly the 1:00 you can actually see my friend Em having her camera taken away as the police pull her away, although I think she got it back later on.

Photo festival part 2-A: Adjoined slum and cemetary in Taipei: Part 1-Slum

This is the second installment in my rapid photo gallery posting series to prepare for my new camera, following Part 1 Osaku amateur photographers in Akihabara.

Last summer when I was in Taipei I stayed for a week and change at my friend Cerise’s house, located in a nice new looking development up the hill a bit from Xinhai Station, on the Muzha MRT elevated train line. The area immediately around the station looks to have been a center of carpentry and similar workshops since well before the station was built in the early 1990s (Muzha was Taipei’s first MRT line, built from 1988 and opening in 1996), and still surround it.

Behind the station are several of the aforementioned workshops, beyond which is a hill, upon which is a traditional Chinese cemetery of the kind popular in Taiwan. This is not particulary weird, but what is kind of weird is that in between the cemetery hill and the immediate vicinity of the station is a small cluster of private homes that I can’t describe in one word any more appropriate than “slum”. These photographs are of the area from the station to the beginning of the cemetery, and Part 2-B: Cemetery is the continuation.

All photographs here taken with a Canon 300D camera with 17-85mm EFS lens, on August 1, 2008.

Here are a flash slideshow, recommended for full-screen mode, and HTML for the flash challenged.

The front of Xinhai station.

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Architectural preservation and history in Taiwan updates

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed three stories in the Taipei Times on the topic of preserving notable or historical architecture in Taiwan.

  1. Taipei County looks to rebuild site of weird UFO houses – I had actually written that I wanted to stop by this area and see the UFO houses before my trip to Taiwan last summer, but just couldn’t find the time. Alas, they may be completely gone by the time I next visit Taiwan.

  2. Taipei to preserve historical Japanese-era buildings – I have previously discussed the many Japanese houses that can be found all over Taiwan in stages of repair ranging all the way from crumbling ruin to well preserved monument. Here is a gallery of photographs I took at one ruin in Taichung, and here and here are photographs of the one behind my apartment building in Taipei. Although Taipei is not proposing a general preservation rule for such historical buildings, which might be nice, they are designating an area near the intersection of Zhongxiao E Road and Jinshan S Road, which contains a cluster of 10 surviving houses built for Japanese civil servants – reportedly the largest single cluster in Taipei – as a special historical zone.

  3. Miaoli officials caught in a lie – Another piece of grim news. Apparently officials in the Miaoli County actually pretended to hold a meeting to discuss the historical preservation of the last three surviving kilns in what was a center of the pottery industry during the Japanese colonial period, but in fact never even convened the meeting. The claim that the kilns had “no historic or cultural value” sounds shaky at best, and it seems that they likely violated the Cultural Heritage Protection Act [文化資產保護法] to make way for an industrial development. Angry preservationists are filing lawsuits against the officials who cleared the kilns for distruction.

There were also three other stories of note related to historical topics I have discussed on this blog before.

  1. Chiang Kai-shek plaque to return to memorial hall – “Rectification of names” continues in Taiwan. I have discussed this phenomenon several times in the past, as committed by Chen Shui-bian’s DPP administration here and here, who was replacing China-centric names with Taiwan-centric ones, and then with the reveral of Chen’s Taiwanization moves by Ma Ying-Jiu’s KMT administration here and here. As of January 22, Democracy Hall nee Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is now once again Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. However, the new KMT administration has magnanimously decided to preserve the renaming of the area surrounding CKS Hall to “Liberty Square”.

  2. Descendents of ‘Orphan Army’ dream of home – I previously discussed the KMT/ROC army remnant of Southeast Asia here, noting in particular their fascinating historical association with the SE Asian drug trade, and the unlikely direct connection forged with 1970s Harlem druglord Frank Lucas, as portratyed in the film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington. As descendants of KMT soldiers, there are actually a fair number of “overseas Chinese” from Burma or Thailand who have gone to Taiwan to study using fake documentation, and although they are apparently not deported from Taiwan due to the tricky historical ROC links, they also find it difficult to obtain proper documentation that would allow them to travel back and forth. I imagine there is some sort of process by which they can apply for legal status, but it may very well require geneological or other documentation that is hard to come by. This is a story well worth checking into more.

  3. Study backs findings on Polynesian origins – Linguistic, genetic and archaeological research in the past has suggested that the entire Polynesian/Austronesian group of peoples, ranging from the Malays of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to the Maori of New Zealand and the native Hawaiians, are all descended from seafaring explorers that set out from Taiwan thousands of years ago. Although only about 2-3% of Taiwan’s current population officially belongs to these “aborigine” tribes whose ancestors were also the ancestors of the Polynesians, a much, much larger percentage of “ethnic Chinese” Taiwanese are actually at least partially descended from aborigines who became culturally Sinicized generations ago. This is of particular pride to proponents of Taiwanese independence who use it as evidence that Taiwan is not inherently Chinese. It is actually a popular theory (if not fact) that much of the “Han” population of southern China is actually descended from natives who became culturally Sinicized in a similar way hundreds or thousands of years ago, and have a noticably distinct genetic history from the northern Han Chinese.

  4. Descendants of victims mark ‘Taiping’ tragedy – Not specifically related to anything I have written about before, but the story of how over 1000 immigrants from China to Taiwan died in a shipwreck near Shanghai in 1949 is new to me, and well worth knowing. I am a bit skeptical of how one can wring out a 20-episode drama from this story though. James Cameron’s Titanic was long enough for me.

A ruin in Taichung

Taiwan is full of Japanese style wooden houses leftover from the colonial period, but most of them are vacant, rotting hulks. There was one such house behind my apartment building when I lived in Taipei, which I posted two very nice photos of here and here. I was told (by Michael Turton) that this is largely due to the fact that insurance companies will not sell coverage for these wooden houses, and few are willing to live in an uninsured home.

While wandering around Taichung (in fact, just a day or so after visiting Michael at his home in that same city) I happened across this ruin and wandered around inside with my camera. Here are the photos.

I recommend using the flash slideshow in fullscreen mode for best resolution, or you can go to the Flickr page directly. Note that the pig was not actually inside the ruin, but tied up out front of a nearby shop.

Update: I should mention that it was late at night, and these photos were taken with available light and extremely long exposures. My zoom lense was broken at the time, so all of them are with a 50mm lens (1.6x crop factor). The camera is a Canon EOS 300D, which is aging fast and desparately needs to be replaced.

Lo Sheng preservation in doubt

The historic Lo Sheng Sanitarium, built by the Japanese colonial government in 1930 and located in Sinjhuang City, Taipei County, may not be preserved after all. As I wrote about following my visit there this summer, activists have been working to arrange a preservation agreement for the site with the government, following a plan to demolish it entirely to make room for a metro train depot. The government had made a promise to preserve 40 (approximately 3/4) of the buildingds on the site, but now appears to be reneging.

The protest came after the Taipei County Government posted a bulletin on Tuesday in which it said that residents who have not moved out before Monday would be evicted, including residents living in 25 buildings the government had promised to preserve.
[...]
The government agreed to preserve 22 buildings at the first site.

“Of the 40 buildings that were to be preserved, the Department of Rapid Transport Systems only guarantees the safety of 15 during construction. It will fence the other 25 buildings, which means residents cannot live there anymore,” the group said in a statement.
[...]
They said the government’s sincerity in vowing to preserve the sanatorium was doubtful.

“The preservation agreement was made last May, but until now, the government hasn’t declared the sanatorium a historical site … Before it is declared as a historical site, we will not allow the MRT department to destroy the complex,” the group said.


(From Taipei Times)

Asian Immigrants in Florida

One of the most obscure footnotes to the recent American elections was the failure of little-known ballot initiative in Florida, which would have symbolically removed from the law books a currently inactive 1926 unconstitutional provision of the state constitution which was intended to prohibit Asians from owning land in the state. The 1926 prohibition is specifically directed at foreigners ineligible for citizenship, which at the time applied to Asians-who were at the time barred from naturalization by federal law.

The language before voters did not explain that the laws first appeared around 1913 during a public panic that Asian immigrants, mostly from Japan, would work on farms for less than Americans and buy up vast tracts of land. It failed to spell out that state provisions were intended to work hand-in-glove with discriminatory federal laws that prevented Asian-Americans from becoming naturalized citizens until 1952.

Rather the ballot simply asked voters if they were willing to delete “provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship.”

Steve Geller, a former state senator who worked to get the initiative on the ballot, said Florida election rules only allowed a description of 75 words, and required that the language of the old provision — “aliens ineligible for citizenship” — be included. As a result, he said, “a lot of people thought it had to do with illegal aliens, and it had nothing to do with illegal aliens.” (NYT)


Few traces remain in Florida of this brief and ill-fated wave of Japanese immigration, and the most prominent is likely the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. It happens to be located very near to my grandparents’ house (like all Jews from Brooklyn, they eventually retired to Florida) and I went there with them a few years back. The garden is pretty nice, I suppose, although I actually got the impression that it is too big to replicate the feeling of an actual Japanese garden, the design philosophy of which is largely based on a fractal-like recreation of the large on a small scale. The significantly different vegetation of Florida also does not help. But the museum does have some neat exhibits (their temporary one the day I went was a pretty cool collection of Japanese kites, which based on my experience is a dead art form in Japan. I saw kites all over in China-does anyone fly them here?) and resources that could be of great interest to a Palm Beach County resident who wants to learn a bit more about Japanese culture. For me, of course, the most interesting thing was the history of the museum itself. And the iguanas.

Their website has a tantalizing, but brief, history of the Japanese in Florida.


In 1904, Jo Sakai, a recent graduate of New York University, returned to his homeland of Miyazu, Japan, to organize a group of pioneering farmers and lead them to what is now northern Boca Raton. With the help of the Model Land Company, a subsidiary of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad, they formed a farming colony they named Yamato, an ancient name for Japan.


Ultimately, the results of their crop experimentation were disappointing and the Yamato Colony fell far short of its goals. By the 1920s, the community, which had never grown beyond 30 to 35 individuals, finally surrendered its dream. One by one, the families left for other parts of the United States or returned to Japan.


One settler remained. His name was George Sukeji Morikami. A modest farmer, George continued to cultivate local crops and act as a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. In the mid-1970s, when George was in his 80s, he donated his land to Palm Beach County with the wish to preserve it as a park and to honor the memory of the Yamato Colony.



It is sad that a legally meaningless ballot resolution intended only as a posthumous apology to these poor immigrants was accidentally voted down by people who thought they were doing something to hurt current illegal immigrants, but one must admit that the resolution was very poorly worded.