Nishi Hongganji Square
The Taipei City Archives Committee (TCAC) collects, files and compiles history-related documents of Taipei City with the aim of preserving local history and cultural heritage. Since Jun. 11, 1952 the TCAC has recorded 60-plus years of local history, bearing witness to the City’s amazing transformation.
Japanese troops arrived in Taiwan after the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki (or Treaty of Maguan) that resulted in the Island’s cession to Japan.
With the Japanese troops came missionaries from various Buddhist denominations. Back in those days, Japanese temples across Taiwan were mostly manned by Japanese monks who performed services following the Japanese tradition, namely worship, chanting, mantra recitations and meditation.
That was how the Shin Buddhism’s Honggang sub-branch made its first foray into Taiwan in 1896 and built the Nishi Hongganji (or “Nishi Honggan Temple”) as its Taiwanese branch.
Nishi Hongganji was the largest Shin Buddhism denomination, founded in 1272 in Japan. Initially, the Taiwanese branch of Nishi Hongganji was intended to offer spiritual comfort for Japanese military personnel, medical care for injured soldiers and memorial services for those who fell on the battlefield.
Right after the Japanese colonial rule ended, families of Chinese Nationalist troops began to settle on the Nishi Hongganji Square, which was then turned into an infirmary in 1949, with the arrival of 6th Corp of Nationalist Troops. To accommodate a growing number of newcomers, notably military dependents from mainland China and refugees from Dachen Island, the square was further divided to create extra living quarters that came to be known as “Zhonghua New Village.”
This long-forgotten square was unearthed in Taipei City Government’s 2005 effort to tear down illegal structures. In 2006, the Tree Heart Hall was designated a city-designated historic site (with the Rinbansyo, Sando, Grand Hall and Mausoleum listed among historic buildings simultaneously) and the square was renamed “Wanhua Plaza No. 406.”
The square, along with its restored historic highlights, was open to the public in 2013 following a 2-year renovation effort.
The Rinbansyo resembled Japanese wooden houses in terms of architectural structure and layout. It was an authentic Japanese structure mostly comprising the Japanese house framework, bamboo-and-mud walls, outer walls with clapboard siding, wooden beam-columns/partitioning/flooring and a brick foundation.
Although the makeshift Rinbansyo burned down in 1924, a new one was erected in the ensuing September. After the Japanese colonists left Taiwan, the Rinbansyo changed its floor plan to accommodate a growing number of dwellers.
The 302 ping (ca. 998 m2) Grand Hall measures 38.875 meters in width (façade), 33.21 meters in depth and 23 meters in height. In a termite-control effort, the Japanese engineer who created this wooden structure decided to mount it on a reinforced concrete foundation, designed by Taiwanese craftsmen. The Grand Hall faces east, the direction of the Taiwan Sutokufu (Governor-General’s Office).
According to The Journal of the Taiwan Architectural Institute, the 7-room-wide, 7-room-deep Grand Hall had a foundation higher than that of the average Buddhist temple, hence the two flights of outdoor steps. Handrails paved with pebbles were found both on the outdoor steps and along the portico. The hall’s center three-room façade featured a four-paneled accordion main-entrance double door that was flanked by tiled “Engawa” (Veranda) corridors. The interior space of the hall was divided into “Gejin” (Outer chamber) and “Naijin” (Sanctum), to serve different purposes simultaneously in a ritual. As a rule, deities were enshrined on the “Jumitan” (Dais for a Buddhist image) or other types of Buddhist altars in the Naijin, while the Gejin was the place of worship.
The concrete foundation, outdoor steps and a part of the handrails are three of a few things left standing after a devastating fire destroyed Grand Hall’s upper wooden structure in 1975.
Tree Heart Hall
Unveiled in1923, the hall was named after a plaque bearing the calligraphic work by Kodama Gentaro, the then-Governor-General of Taiwan, reading “Shu-Xin-Fo-Di (literally meaning “The heart of a tree and a Buddha-blessed place”).
This modern-style hall is an L-shaped Western brick-and-wood structure.
The Irimoya (hip-and-gable) roofing of Tree Heart Hall was inspired by the traditional Chinese Xieshan roofing (East Asian hip-and-gable roofing) while the Western sash windows (a.k.a. “gravity pendulum windows”) were ingeniously designed to be secured, in any place desired, by the sheer weight of a built-in pendulum. On the hall’s entrance roof, a Karamon, common in Japan, is perched; it is accentuated by European columns for a West-meets-East effect.
Completed in 1922 to store the remains of the deceased, the wooden Mausoleum featured double-eave roofing covered with bronze plates, with a 9-tier “Sorin” (Pagoda finial) mounted on the top and a “Karamon” (Chinese-style arched portal typically at a temple) in the front. Only two things were left standing after the 1975 fire that ruined the Mausoleum: the foundation and the basement.
In a Buddhist temple, a Kuri is the monks’ primary living quarters, consisting of a reception space, a tea ceremony room, a guest hall, a monk’s hall, a dining room and a kitchen. Unlike other Taiwan-based Japanese Buddhist temples where the Kuri doubled as an administrative office and monks’ dormitory, the Nishi Hongganji was large enough to house a separate Rinbansyo and Kuri. Ten years after 1924, when a fire devoured its Kuri-cum-assembly room, the temple erected a 2-story, dazzling Kuri which, according to an old photograph, had a double-pitched roof and gabled hallway at its entrance, besides “Irimoya” (Hip-and-gable) roofing. Unfortunately, the new Kuri burned down in 1975 with a tree now thriving on its site.
In 1899, the Japanese missionary Shiun Genpan’s congregation was touched by a story about people converting to Buddhism upon hearing the sound of temple bells, and decided to make a joint donation toward the construction of a bell when learning about the preparation of Nishi Honggangji’s Taipei branch. Osaka Copper Ware Co. delivered the bell for the Taipei branch of Nishi Hongganji in 1901, one year after the congregation commissioned it to do so. The bell bore an engraved sentence: “Made in the first month of the 34th year since Emperor Meiji by the benefactors from Taipei through the lectures on the Konkomyo-saishoo Sutra ” alongside Buddhist verses beginning with “Hongganji”.
The bell was moved from its initial location, the Zhidao Temple, to Nishi Honggangji’s Taipei branch, and housed in a makeshift bell tower, which was replaced in 1923 by a tower constructed with materials left over from the Mausoleum project.
Perched next to the “Sando” (Approach to a shrine) on a 3-meter-high rockery, the Bell Tower combined Irimoya (hip-and-gable) roofing with an exquisite Dougong (interlocking wooden brackets) at the bottom that suggested Chinese influence.
Sanmon and Sando
During the construction of Kuri, Matsumoto Kenzo learned of Nishi Hongganji’s Sanmon project after a temple service performed by Rinban (Abbot) Shibahara, and then decided to fund that gate as a thanks offering. Despite the initial plan of Ide Kaoru, an engineer of Taiwan Governor-General Office, to model Sanmon after Japan’s Horyu Temple, the outer walls of the gate were simplified to meet the unforgiving deadline. The Taiwanese authorities demolished the Sanmon to make way for an underground railway project.
The 4.55-meter-wide, 35-meter-long cobbled Sando was completed in a 2-month project that began immediately when the Japanese congregation paid for the construction of Sanmon. The Sando was paved with 30 x 60 centimeter (cm) slabs of natural stones and finished with curbstone s 21 cm in width and 120 cm in length. Lying between the Grand Hall and Sanmon, the Sando offered temple-goers access to the Grand Hall once they walked through the Sanmon.
The Public Records Room’s collection of 10,000-odd volumes of Taipei-relevant publications ranging from history books, ethnographic materials, regional facts, and biographies to academic research, along with various artifacts, are now readily accessible to the general public via an efficient, computerized database. Renovated and reopened at the same location, the Public Records Room will meet your needs like never before!
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