Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My 10th Visit to Taiwan

Happy New Year! I start the New Year with a 3-part posting to commemorate my 10th visit to Taiwan.

"Nowadays not only humans, but houses cross international borders."

Meili Chen, Taichung Toastmaster opened a conversation in impeccable Japanese when her close friends sat together for a break at the conference forum in Taiwan.

Meili, in her maiden days, had studied at Kyoto University. "Sounds nice! Is it a Taiwan story? Can you tell me where?" I inquired. "A Japanese house of 100 years old came to Tamsui," Meili started her talk. I had one free day in Taipei on this trip and I was hoping to visit the house to commemorate my 10th visit to Taiwan." Here is Chen's story summarized. The house was originally located in Oicho, Fukui Prefecture along the Wakasa Bay facing the Japan Sea. The project was intended as an inland transplant to a community park in Kobe and any move outside of Japan was not even considered.

What happened was the bond that developed after two intense (above 7.0 on Richter scale) earthquakes that victimized Kobe (1995) and southern Taiwan (1999). Both countries struggled for a speedy recovery. As care packages and comfort goods were exchanged, rescue crews and volunteers mutually dispatched, the relationship evolved into a very close one and grass roots movement of joint cooperation on respective key projects was established.

I am a returnee from the U.S. after 30 cumulative years. It was in late 1994 that my wife and I came back to my Tokyo house. My sister-in-law from Kitakyushu helped us unpack during the New Year holidays. The Kobe earthquake hit hard and the Shinkansen (bullet train) service was halted. My sister-in-law had to return to Kitakyushu by air. In Sept 1999, Taiwan was struck. It was after I made my first few visits to Taiwan. I remember writing sympathy letters, sending donations, to my new Taiwanese friends.

More than 10 years has passed and I just finished my 10th visit this past November. I was reminded that a steady and vigorous relationship has developed between Taiwan and Japan. (On and after 3/11, Taiwan continues to assist in recovery efforts of the Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami victims).

What kicked off the house transplant project was the disassembly and reassembly of a Fukui antique house for the Kobe Mikura North Park Community Center when Taiwan volunteers saw the beauty of the wooden house. They were so impressed that they expressed their wish to have such a house in Taiwan.

The Mikura nonprofit organization (NPO), called "Machi-Communication," is an organization of that has won awards from the Minister of Domestic General Affairs, as well as the Prime Minister, for efforts of caring for deceased victims and compassion toward recovery. A 100-year old house built by Master Carpenter Kakuji Minakami, father of writer Tsutomu Minakami, was secured for the project. The NPO "Machi-Comi" arranged to make it Minakami's Library with 200 books donated by Tsutomu's daughter. The NPO also arranged to make Chen Shun-Chen's Library, because Kobe is where Chen was born and spent his childhood. The house was christened with the name "Ittekisui", the Zen philosophy Tsutomu Minakami embraced, meaning "the infinite universe exists even in one drop of water".

Meanwhile, Taiwan searched vigorously for suitable land. First, Changhua County in the south volunteered. Plans fell through, however, when the soliciting County Mayor lost his election. It was in 2009 when Tamsui Mayor answered the call as Tamsui was where the writer Chen returned to live from Kobe after the war. It was reported that students from Tamkang University volunteered to complete the termite treatment of stored timbers before the Japanese carpenters were summoned in. The work started in June and was completed in December. It took a full 6 months to refinish, given the fact that the original design did not use any nails. The successful completion of the project was the result of the effort of 5,000 people.

Photos of the progress of the project reminded me of the Amish villagers constructing a new house with all hands.

The celebration of completion was attended by Tamsui Mayor and other key volunteers, including a Taiwanese called Lao-Tai as reported by writer Ryotaro Shiba of the NPO Machi-Communication News. His real name is Kun-Zhan Tsai. He is a Japanese fencing master, an entrepreneur of the semiconductor industry and he served as Taipei guide for Ryotaro Shiba. A Toast to the real hero: NPO "Machi-Comi," the salt of the earth!

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