Living History-Beitou Museum

In his book, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes and Values Yi-Fu Tuan states that to understand why a place was created and admired, the heritage (biological and social) of the people ‘there’ must be examined. Group attitudes, history and experience shape both the place and the people.

Historically, the Beitou area was called “Patak” in the indigenous Ketagalan language. It meant ‘Where the shamans reside,’ referring to the mists and mystery that shroud the area in sulphuric fumes. The indigenous people did not use this water for bathing or irrigation. In 1896, Hirato Gengo opened the first Hot Springs Hotel in Beitou. It catered to Japanese residents in Taiwan and the Japanese military. Slowly the local population adopted the bathing habits of the Japanese rulers but they could not afford to be patrons of the hot springs establishments. By the 1900s there were about 50 in the area.

Local bathers set up informal bathing sites on Beitou Creek. In 1914 a public bathhouse was built for the Taiwan Women’s Charity Association. They wanted to end public bathing in the Beitou stream. In 1916, train links were established to the Beitou area making it accessible for tourism. It remains a popular weekend destination. The Beitou Museum was built in 1921 as the Kazan Ryokan, run by the Yoshida family from Japan.

Kazan Ryokan

The buildings that comprise the museum were originally a hot springs hotel. The ryokan, a Japanese inn with tatami lined rooms and communal baths, public spaces are also designed as focal points. From lobby reception to the public spaces, each small nook is worthy of inspection. The Kazan Ryokan has a unique Japanese-Western style. This differs from the public bath house built in a western style by Matsunosuke Moriyama. Official buildings were modern and impressive. A result of the Meiji Restoration, 1868-1912 Japan modernized following trends in Western political and technological development. The Kazan Ryokan was softened with a Japanese vernacular architecture, a more private space.

Taiwan’s oldest standing two-story wooden building

After the retrocession in 1945, the Japanese owners of the hotel returned to Japan and the hotel went through different owners and uses. For the last 37 years the location has been recognised as the Beitou Museum.

In the late 1990s renovation of the site started and was completed in 2008. In 1998 the museum and annex were designated as municipal historical sites by the Taipei City Government. According to the Beitou Museum’s Director, Hung Kan, it is the oldest standing two-story wooden building in Taiwan. Early in the renovation process from 1999-2000, a ridge tag was found in the second floor ceiling. Typically these tags have information concerning the construction and materials used in the original construction.

This tag was different. Instead of the expected details of materials and craftsman, the tag was inscribed with the Lotus Sutra 妙法蓮華経, Myōhō Renge Kyō, written on it. The significance of this resembles the Buddhist path: anyone can be a learner (bodhisattva) like the flower of the Lotus that blooms over roots obscured by mud and murk. The tag was left in situ and a replica is displayed in the gallery on the first floor that documents the restoration of the museum. In this section of the museum a bathing pool (no longer operational) is also on display.

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The Garden & Buildings

In 1935 an annex, today called the Taoran house, was built and it’s surrounded by a garden. Director Hung Kan, personally maintains this garden, selecting its trees and plants, cleaning the stream, waterfall and raking the gravel sections throughout the museum grounds daily. The main structures of the Beitou Museum occupy about 800 ping. The interior of the museum is partitioned with Shoji screens, the maintenance and crafting of the screens is an inhouse operation. The first floor of the main building has a restaurant, gallery space and gift shop, the second floor also has galleries and there is a large tatami-lined hall where celebrations and tea ceremonies are held. The museum is run by the Fu Lu Cultural Foundation.

Public Events & Dining

along with curated art displays, Beitou Museum holds a collection of Han Chinese and Indigenous artifacts. In early 2024 the Toys from Taiwan will be on exhibit. This can be rented for special events and conferences. The museum also has monthly activities. The restaurant specializes in Kaiseki cuisine. This cuisine is based on a great variety of set courses chosen by the chef, using fresh ingredients that are in season. The dishes are simple yet nourishing and satisfying. The Winter menu is currently available. Inquiries about dietary restrictions should be made before you plan to dine.

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Constance Woods has lived in Taiwan since 1985. A wife/mother, teacher and artist, she was an ESL teacher for 25 years and has been an active volunteer in community arts organizations since the 1990s. She holds an MA in Taiwan Studies from National Cheng Chi University and is currently a student in the Critical and Curatorial Studies of Contemporary Art MA program at National Taiwan University of Education.

Photos by Seiji Kamei

Beitou Museum
No. 32, Youya Rd, Beitou

Entrance $120 NTD. Group rates and guided tours are available.

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