As I have explained in the past, a great number of residential and commercial buildings constructed in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era have been neglected or demolished. Economic growth, urban redevelopment, real estate speculation and indifference are the main reasons why old houses and shops have been torn down or left to decay.
However, in recent years more and more people have begun to rediscover and reappraise the architectural heritage left by the Japanese on the island. Citizens and entrepreneurs have already saved several old buildings from oblivion and destruction. In this series of articles I would like to recommend a few Japanese colonial buildings in Taiwan that have been renovated and converted into restaurants or cafes.
One day in 2013 I passed by a dilapidated old house in Hangzhou South Road, not far from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. It was a small Japanese-style wooden structure surrounded by a garden and protected by a wall. The house is located in Guting area, a part of Taipei that has experienced a staggering change over the past three centuries.
In the 18th century Kuo Hsi-liu (郭錫瑠, pinyin Guo Xiliu, ), a native of mainland China’s Zhangzhou, moved to present-day Guting to cultivate the soil. In the 1760s he began the construction of a system of canals and water gates which in his honour was called ‘Liu-kung-chen‘ (瑠公圳, pinyin: Liugongzhen).
However, works on the canals were slowed down by frequent incursions on the part of the aboriginal peoples that already lived in the region before the arrival of the Han. Kuo convinced the local community to erect a drum pavilion next to a Chinese folk religion temple (present-day Ch’ang-ch’ing Temple) that served as an alarm system. Whenever sentries sighted aboriginal warriors, they would alert the Chinese settlers by beating the drum.
The drum (大鼓, pinyin: dagu) which was installed inside the watchmen’s pavilion (守望亭, shouwangting) eventually gave rise to the name Guting village (古亭庄, pinyin: gutingzhuang, with the character 古 used instead of the original homophone character for ‘drum’).
The Liu-kung-chen survived until the 1970s, when economic growth and population increase led the government to fill the canals to build streets and houses. Today various places in Taipei are named after Kuo Hsi-liu, including Taipei Municipal Liu Gong Junior High School in Xinyi District, Liu Gong Memorial Building, and the Mingde Road ditch (明德路的圳道) in Xindian, one of the last remnants of the original canals.
After the Japanese conquered Taiwan in 1895, they included Guting into a new administrative district called Nishikicho (錦町, pinyin: Jinding). In the 1920s they built a series of dormitories for government officials, most of which are now unused and in a state of decay. The building I passed by in 2013 was exactly one of these dormitories.
About a year later, as I was walking along Hangzhou South Road, I saw that the entrance to the old house had been cordoned off and scaffolds had been erected around it. I wondered if the building would be demolished, which seemed to me the most likely outcome. Luckily I was wrong.
A company called Lead Jade Life Group (立偕團隊) in partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs of Taipei City renovated the building and converted it into a restaurant called Leputing (樂埔町).
Leputing is located in Hangzhou South Road Section 2 Number 67, Da’an District, Taipei City (台北市大安區杭州南路二段67號). It is opened every day from 11:30 to 22:00. Leputing is a high-end restaurant; the minimum price is NT$980 (around US$33) for a lunch set, NT$500 (around US$17) for a tea set, and NT$1,800 (around US$60) for a dinner set.
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