COLONIAL UTOPIA – Art & Architecture

Through our multiple blog posts, we explore hints of Japanese influence still existing nowadays in Taipei. In this article, we shall look into Japan’s influence in Taiwan’s cultural realm, specifically in art and architecture.


Hsueh Yen Ling, chief of collection and conservation division of the National Taiwan museum of Fine Arts, published an article discussing how Taiwan’s modern arts reflect its Japanese colonial past. She believes the modernization of Taiwanese arts owes it to Japan. (Hsueh, 2014)


The Japanese initiated Taiwan’s modern arts education. They first brought in western-style art curriculums into public schools, and organized frequent art exhibitions in Taiwan. Moreover, the Japanese established the first fine arts society in Taiwan, located in Taipei. The society encouraged the study of the arts, and sparked the fine arts market in Taiwan. (Hsueh, 2014)


In 1902, the Japanese declared calligraphy and fines arts to be part of primary education in Taiwan, hoping to improve students’ appreciation towards the arts. Furthermore, Japanese painters, such as Kinichiro Ishikawa and Toho Shiotsui, were active advocates of the arts, encouraging students to paint the changes in the world. Many of those students ended up travelling to Japan to further study arts – some of these notable Taiwanese artists are sculptor Huang Tu Shui and painters Chen Cheng Po, Liao Chi Chun, and Li Mei Shu. (Hsueh, 2014)

The Sound of the Waves, Painting by Chen Cheng Po
A Historic Monument in Greece, Painting by Liao Chi Chun

Besides, the Taiwanese Fine arts exhibition organized by the colonial office in 1927 was a milestone in Taiwan’s arts development. The exhibition was a huge success and gathered great media attention, creating opportunities for 15 more Taiwanese art exhibitions after. Taiwanese arts embodies the spirit of western-style art, which was introduced through opportunities created by Japanese artists during colonization. (Hsueh, 2014)


On the other hand, colonization has left over lots of historical architecture. After colonization, some countries choose to demolish and get rid any trace of colonization. In Taipei, it is the opposite. Many colonial architecture has remained in Taiwan, like the railway stations previously discussed in our other blog post. Here we will discuss No.1 Granary, the old emergency food storage facility in Taipei. The facility has never actually been used due to no invasion, but it still has significant historic meaning to the people. In 2006, the city declared it a historic structure, protecting it from demolishment. (Ko, 2016)

Original No.1 Granary

Earlier in 2012, Taipei’s Department of Cultural Affairs began the Old House Cultural Movement, a program that fosters partnerships between the city and private enterprises to restore historical sites. The program aims to preserve and restore 400 such buildings in Taipei – half of which were constructed during the Japanese colonial era. (Ko, 2016)


Lead Jade Life and Culture Co. is the company that restored and manages No.1 Granary now. They restored the building, preserving its original facade, but redesigned the interior, turning the ground floor into a farmer’s market, with an Italian restaurant above. (Ko, 2016) They’ve also changed its name into No. 1 Food Theatre Cuisine.

No. 1 Food Theater Cuisine source:
No. 1 Food Theatre Cuisine Building

Other Old House projects include Rinbansyo, the former residence of the head priest of a major Japanese temple. It was also designated a historic site by the city in 2006, and was restored and now managed by the company, Eighty-Eightea Co., as a tea shop. (Ko, 2016) 

The restored Rinbansyo in Taipei

There are plenty of Old House projects, which successfully transformed historic buildings into restaurants, shops and dormitories. It is a brilliant idea to connect businesses with historic sites in order to help preserve and protect history in Taipei. Other than the Old House project, the government also has spent funding towards maintaining Japanese colonial architecture, such as the former Japanese governor’s residence, now the Taipei Guest house. (Ko, 2016)


This blog posts strives to acknowledge the relationship between modern day Taipei and its colonial past – how the Japanese introduced and influenced Taiwan’s fine arts development, as well as how the Taiwanese seek to restore colonial architecture and allow new spaces to be created.



Hsueh, Yen Ling. “Taiwan’s modern arts reflect Japan’s colonial influence.” September 07, 2014.

Ko, Shu Ling. “Groups work to preserve Japanese colonial architecture in Taipei.” The Japan Times, Oct. 2016,

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