The Takao Club

Hirohito comes to Takao

The Takao Club

Crown Prince Hirohito's 1923 Visit to Takao

Taiwan had been a Japanese colony since 1895. During the month of April 1923, Crown Prince Hirohito, heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, made an Imperial Visit to this first colony of Japan. 

Harry A Franck, in his 1924 book Glimpses of Japan and Formosa, recounts how there stood on the hill overlooking the new and old towns of Takao an 'unoccupied group of unpainted wooden buildings specially erected to house the prince regent during a recent two-day visit, which are so sacred that they cannot even be photographed'.


      Crown Prince Hirohito (April 29, 1901 - January 7, 1989)  was later to reign over the Japanese Empire as the Showa Emperor from 1926 to 1989. He was known in the West by his given name Hirohito (he had no surname). He was the 124th Emperor of Japan. His reign was the longest of all Japanese emperors, yet he began it as a divine being and ended it as a mere mortal.

      His formal investiture as Crown Prince  took place on 2 November 1916, following the death of his grandfather, the Emperor Meiji, on July 30, 1914. The Meiji Shrine, which was not completed until 1920, had a torii (main gate) constructed of Taiwan cypress. The shrine was destroyed during the fire-bombing of World War II, but the main torii was rebuilt with Taiwan cypress. 

      On November 29, 1921, he became Prince Regent of Japan, in place of his ailing father, the Taisho Emperor who suffered from 'mental incapacity'.

Hirohito (April 29, 1901 - January 7, 1989)

       It is believed that his father had suffered from accidental lead-poisoning whilst suckling from his wet-nurse. At that time Japanese women commonly used a lead compound to whiten their skins. The extent of the Taisho Emperor's incapacity was clear when, at the 1913 opening of the Diet, he famously rolled his prepared speech into a telescope and stared at the assembly through it instead of reading it. After 1919, he undertook no official duties and Hirohito subsequently, on 29 November 1921, became the Prince Regent.

      In 1922, Prince Regent Hirohito had undertaken a six month tour of the United Kingdom and five other European countries, thus becoming the first Japanese crown prince to travel abroad.

The Imperial Cruiser Kongo

      In 1923, Hirohito set off to tour the Japanese colony of Taiwan, a voyage his father, the then Crown Prince Yoshihito, had planned in 1911 but never undertaken.

      The Crown Prince embarked on the Imperial Cruiser Kongo at Yokosuka, the main Japanese naval base located to the south of Yokohama, on 12 April 1923. 

      He was accompanied by HIH Prince Hiroyoshi Fushimi and had an escort of two other warships of the Japanese Imperial Navy.

      After arriving at Keelung (Kelung) on 16 April, Crown Prince Hirohito and his entourage proceeded directly to Taipei (Taihoku), where the governor-general's residence and the principal colonial offices were located.

      At Taipei, Crown Prince Hirohito was received by Baron Den Kenjiro, the Governor-General of Taiwan. 

      Baron Den Kenjiro (shown on the right) ruled Taiwan from 29 October 1919 - 2 September 1923, and was her first civilian governor-general. Den was not only a statesman and bureaucrat, he was also an industrialist, being one of the founders in 1911 of what was to become Nissan Motors.

      Indeed, Baron Den Kenjiro's governorship of the island colony ushered in a period of enlightened civilian rule and liberalisation that was to last until 1936, when Japan was to become dominated by militarism. Many consider that the rise in militarism was a consequence of an education system that stressed absolute loyalty to a hierarchical system.

Baron Den Kenjiro (b. 1855 d. 1930)

      Upon his appointment, Den had been given the mission  of assimilating the Taiwanese as Japanese subjects, especially through the medium of the education system and he thus carried out an extensive programme of building new schools.

      It was in this context of assimilating the Taiwanese as Japanese subjects that Crown Prince Hirohito's visit to the colony took place.

      Hirohito's first night on Taiwanese soil was spent not at Taipei but to the west, near Tamsui, at a place called Kappan-zan  [角板山, Chiaopanshan].

Japanese Postcard depicting the View from Kappanzan

             The English consular official and travel-writer Owen Rutter had recorded his visit to Kappan-zan during the year 1921 in his book Through Formosa. He relates that 'Kappanzan stands on a plateau high above the Tamsui, now nothing but a mountain torrent. ... We were lodged in the Government rest-house, which overlooked the deep-cleft valley and was built in the usual Japanese style. Close by was the palace which had been built some time previously for an expected visit of the Crown Prince, which, however, did not take place'.

      Kerr, writing many years later and with erroneous dates, recounts that Hirohito spent a single night at Kappanzan. Kerr laconically notes that the 'quasi-Western house (had been) built especially for the occasion, at great expense'. He adds that the 'Japanese in Formosa were suitably awed by the visit; the Formosans were not'.

      Hirohito made his tour through Taiwan by rail using a carriage (No SA 4101) that had been built out of teak, Chinese juniper and cypress for his father in 1912, yet never used. (see photograph on right). 

      The interior of the carriage used by Crown Prince Hirohito was divided into a living-room area, a bedroom and a toilet. Each area was outfitted with electrical appliances, including electric lights and wooden, double-bladed fans.

      This luxuriously appointed carriage has recently been restored by the Taiwan Railway Administration. By clicking on the image you can view the restored carriage.

      At each station along the route, Hirohito would get off the train, escorted by the regional governor and followed by attendants from the Imperial Household, the Governor-General, the Taiwan Army Commander, the Secretary of General Affairs of the Government-General, the local police chief and so forth, clearly signifying the rigid political and social hierarchy of the Japanese Empire. 

      During his journey by train through Taiwan, Hirohito had sighted Mount Sylvia [雪山, Hsueh-shan] and graciously renamed it Tsugitaka-yama. 

      Crown Prince Hirohito arrived at Takao Station, the southern terminal of the railway traversing Taiwan, on 21 April 1923.

      The old station still remains, though it is no longer used for passenger traffic, at the eastern end of Lin-hai 2nd Road in Ku-shan District. 

      Upon arrival Crown Prince Hirohito was driven through the recently-reclaimed and newly-constructed Shinhama district of Takao, passing through the ceremonial arch that had been built for the occasion of his Imperial Visit. His motorcar then ascended the lower slopes of Takao Mountain to arrive at the Reception Hall.

      The Reception Hall had been constructed entirely of the finest Taiwanese timber to house the Crown Prince. The pavillion-like building and its interior show a superb simplicity.

      The simplicity of the Reception Hall on Takao Mountain stood in contrast to the grandiose splendour by which the Japanese rulers sought to impress their Taiwanese subjects.

      During his stay at Takao Crown Prince Hirohito made a visit to the Minato Primary School that lay in the new town below the Reception Hall where he was staying. A report by the school principal, Shoji Unrinin, in the Taiwan Nichinichi Shinpo of 25 April 1923, serves to express the significance of Hirohito's visit:

"More than half of the 52 Japanese pupils who were granted this inspection of their class are born in Taiwan and have never seen the Imperial Palace. Another 900 students in this school are in the same position. On this occasion, however, they were able to see the Crown Prince from close by. I am certain that the students have been instilled with a great respect towards the Imperial Family, and were deeply impressed by our future Emperor. I am convinced that this visit will have a great impact on the spiritual education of our students."

Minato (now, Ku-shan) Primary School

      During the time of his stay at Takao, Crown Prince Hirohito also visited the massive new sugar mill that had been built in 1909 by the Taiwan Sugar Manufacturing Company at Heito (屏東, Pingtung).

     The story is told of the Grove of Auspicious Bamboos. When Hirohito's visit was first planned in early 1923, Mr Yamamoto, the President of the Taiwan Sugar Manufacturing Company, honoured with the prospect of an Imperial visit to his company, planned a cool arbour for the Crown Prince to rest.

  The arbour was to be 'pillared with verdant male bamboo, which is a special product of Taiwan, and roofed with (fresh) native miscanthus'. 

      The finest bamboos were cut from the forests of central Taiwan and duly erected at Heito. However, Hirohito's visit was delayed by some weeks and Mr Yamamoto feared lest the bamboo lose all its verdure before the Crown Prince's arrival. Yet, a few days before Crown Prince Hirohito's arrival, the bamboo burst into life again. On the actual day of Hirohito's visit the bamboo pillars had fresh green sprouts several inches in length, which delighted the prince. 

      In later years this Grove of Auspicious Bamboos became venerated as the Zuichikurin Memorial.

Taiwan Sugar Manufacturing Company at Heito

      In October 1910  H.I.H. Prince Kanin Kotohito had made the first Imperial visit to Taiwan since the official end of hostilities in 1895. This visit, ostensibly to mark the completion of the Keelung-Takao railway, also signalled the advent of peace throughout the island colony. 

      The southern point of the railroad at Takao was of major significance to the Japanese in accordance with their 'Look South' policy.

      Prince Kanin arrived at Takao aboard the SA 4102, the first Imperial Train, whose number had been demoted in deference to Hirohito's use of the second that had been designated SA 4101. 

      During his brief visit he decried the absence of a suitable temple for the use of then sizeable number of Japanese immigrants living in the ShaoChuanTou area of Takao.

      The Imperial Prince commanded that a family shrine then standing on the side of Takao Mountain be rebuilt as a Japanese Shinto temple. The temple, called the Kotohira Shrine [金刀比羅], was duly built in 1911 and was for praying to Omononushi-no-Mikoto [大物主命] , the Japanese god of the sea, and to the 12th century Japanese Emperor Sutoku [崇德天].

      We can be certain that Crown Prince Hirohito paid his respects at this shrine on his way to climb Takao Mountain. For, two years after his visit, a memorial was constructed higher up the Takao Mountain to commemorate Crown Prince Hirohito's climb up the bluff.

      The memorial (shown on the right) was built a few hundred metres above the Kotohira Shrine, and now lies within a restricted military area.

      Crown Prince Hirohito stayed at the tranquil Reception Hall upon the slopes of Takao Mountain on the nights of 21 and 22 April 1923. As the 29th of April was to be the Crown Prince's birthday, it was to decided to honour his presence by renaming Takao Mountain as Longevity Mountain (Kotobuki-yama [壽山] (Shou-shan); oddly, the name it still enjoys.

      On 23 April 1923, Crown Prince Hirohito departed aboard the Imperial Cruiser Kongo to make an inspection of the important naval base at Makung in the Pescadores (Peng-hu).

      After returning to Taipei on 24 April, Hirohito visited the hot springs at Peitou on 25 April 1923. The original structure had been built in 1913 in the style of a traditional Japanese bathhouse. However, in anticipation of Hirohito's visit an additional residential wing was added to the earlier building, this time in the style of an Edwardian country house.

      The new building was subsequently opened to the public and was deemed the largest public bathhouse in the Japanese Empire.

      Crown Prince Hirohito handed his Imperial Notice to Governor-General Den Kenjiro and departed from Keelung aboard the Kongo on 26 April 1923.

      Hirohito returned aboard the Kongo to Yokosuka on 1 May 1923, thus completing the only trip that a Japanese Crown Prince was ever to make to a Japanese colony.

      Events in the year after the return of Crown Prince Hirohito hardly augured well. 

      On 1 September 1923  the Great Kanto Earthquake was to shatter Japan proper, killing some 100,000 people and levelling vast areas, particularly in the capital city of Tokyo whose wooden buildings were consumed by the resultant fires. Although the city was rebuilt drawing on the then massive timber reserves of Taiwan, some 20 years later it was to be destroyed again; this time by American incendiary bombs. 

      In the aftermath of the Kanto earthquake, the military authorities saw an opportunity to annihilate the communist movement in Japan. The backlash culminated in an assassination attempt on the Prince Regent Hirohito on 27 December 1923.

      The Crown Prince survived and was married within the month to Princess Nagako. They had seven children, with their eldest son, Prince Tsugu, being the current (2005) Japanese Emperor Akihito.

      In December, 1926, after the death of his father Yoshihito known as the Taisho Emperor, he succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne and was entitled Showa (Enlightened Peace). The new Emperor Showa had the particular distinction of being the first Japanese monarch in several hundred years whose biological mother was his predecessor's official wife.

The Showa Emperor, known in the West as Hirohito, in 1928

      In the year following Hirohito's enthronement as the Emperor Showa, it was decided at Takao to set up a Takao Temple Construction Association to raise funds to build a more fitting shrine to the Imperial Family. The new Takao Temple, completed in 1929, was built on three levels with a spacious flight of steps leading up to it; these steps survive today.

      The postcard on the left shows Kotobuki Mountain(Shou-shan)  around 1935. The steps and the torii (ceremonial arch) on the hill still stand today.

      Despite other assassination attempts and the loss of his divine status after the Second World War, Emperor Hirohito died peacefully on 7 January 1989, at the age of 87.

Some sources:

Looking Back: The History of Kaohsiung

Old Postcards of Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung Museum of History

Taiwan, a Unique Colonial Record, Hideo Naito

Note: In 1923, Makino Productions made a silent 25-minute newsreel of  the Crown Prince (the future Emperor) Hirohito's visit to Taiwan, entitled "Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito Visits to Taiwan" [揤峜乮徍榓乯暶壓愛惌媨帪戙偵戜榩峴孾]. This 16mm film is held by the Keio Yochisha Elementary School [小学校]. It was shown at the 1997 Yamagata International Film Festival.

The Takao Club

Hirohito comes to Takao

The Takao Club