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History revisited as Mitsui Warehouse reopens

By Yali Chen
 
After two years of relocation, reconstruction and restoration, the Mitsui Warehouse in the west of Taipei has been transformed into the “House of Memories.” From October 31, 2018 to February 28, 2019, the museum will display valuable historical documents and artifacts.
 
The rebuilt historical monument opened to the public on November 1, 2018. On the first floor, visitors can enjoy virtual reality guided tours. The second floor has more than 400 precious historical data and items that will take visitors back to the good old days when the Mitsui Warehouse was built in 1913.

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Photo by LRM
Satoru Ohashi (right), President of Mitsui & Co (Taiwan) Ltd, presents a letter of authorization to Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je. In return, Ko later gave Mr. Ohashi a certificate of appreciation.
 
At the opening ceremony on October 31, several special guests kicked off the four-month exhibition: Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je, Deputy Mayor Chen Chin-jun, and Deputy Mayor Charles Lin, as well as Chung Yung-feng, Commissioner of Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA). Mr. Satoru Ohashi, President of Mitsui & Co (Taiwan) Ltd. led representatives of the Tokyo-based Mitsui Group. Some members of the Taipei Cultural Asset Review Committee were also present at this official event.
 
The opening ceremony began with a Taiko drumming performance by students of Taipei Municipal Peng-lai Elementary School in the Datong District.
 
Mr. Satoru presented a letter of authorization to the mayor of Taipei. The letter was the formal permission granted by the Mitsui Group for the city government to use relevant historical documents of its “North Gate Warehouse.” The warehouse was built during the period of Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945. Mayor Ko reciprocated by presenting Mr. Satoru a certificate of appreciation.

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Photo by LRM
Architecture Prof. Kun-Chen Chang (right) of the National Taipei University of Technology (NTUT) explains to Mayor Ko the reconstruction work done.
 
In his speech, Ko said that the Mitsui Warehouse was one of the few buildings that displayed the Mitsui Group’s diamond-shaped trademark. He expressed appreciation that the Mitsui Group had provided a wealth of first-hand historical data, thus making its old warehouse a cultural and historical venue.
 
“The restoration and reopening of this warehouse is an important part of the city government’s plan to rejuvenate the western part of the nation’s capital,” the mayor said, alluding to the Western Gateway Project
 
Under this project, the city’s North Gate is defined as an important structure foreign travelers will likely link to their impressions of Taipei. Centered on the North Gate, the western part of the city, with its historical buildings, used to be an important place for business and trade.
 
In the future, the city government will integrate the Mitsui Warehouse with the North Gate, the historical railway, and surrounding historical monuments. They will then become important landmarks in the Western Gateway Project.
 
“Only the Railway Police Bureau still stands in western Taipei,” Ko said, “but it is set to relocate in June 2019. We may demolish that building one month later and then build a park in its place as soon as possible.”

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Photo from DOCA
The Mitsui Warehouse in the west of Taipei has now been reopened to the public
after two years of relocation, reconstruction and restoration.

 
The opening of two nearby railway and postal museums has likewise been delayed for four years. Ko said that he will ask deputy mayor Charles Lin to communicate with the central government to complete the Western Gateway Project soon.
 
“Like the Arc de Triomphe, Taipei’s North Gate will stand out as a new landmark for Taipei and a national symbol for Taiwan.”
 
Renovation of the Mitsui Warehouse was an important part of the Western Gateway Project. This was why the mayor placed the final piece on a “North Gate” puzzle to symbolize the completion of this building in western Taipei.
 
In 2012, the city government listed the warehouse as a protected heritage site. But the old building had been left open and unoccupied for a long time, so its roof and floor had almost collapsed.

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Photo from DOCA
From left to right, Satoru Ohashi, President of Mitsui & Co (Taiwan) Ltd; Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je; Taipei City Deputy Mayor Charles Lin; and Chung Yung-feng, Commissioner of Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, in front of a brick arch that was once part of the Mitsui Warehouse.
 
After taking office in 2014, Ko pushed for the Western Gateway Project the following year. The project sought to create a new image of western Taipei. It included a renovation plan of the area around the North Gate. Using the Culture Resources Preservation Act, the Council for Cultural Affairs (now known as the Ministry of Culture) in 2005 declared this gate a national historic site.
 
Built in 1884 as the “Cheng-en Gate,” it became irrelevant as the city’s transportation network developed. It regained its prominence when the Zhongxiao Bridge ramp was torn down in early 2016.
 
On his first night as mayor, Ko removed the special bus lane on Zhongxiao West Rd. Using the Chinese New Year holidays in 2016 to tear down the entry ramp to the Zhongxiao Bridge in six days. He thus restored the North Gate’s original glory.
 
Hoping to give the entire area a facelift, the mayor wanted to redo the exteriors of some of the old buildings around the North Gate Plaza, including the Mitsui Warehouse.
 
The Taipei Cultural Asset Review Committee held four meetings and a public hearing before finally deciding in May 2016 to relocate the Mitsui Warehouse. This historical monument was relocated about 51 meters east of its original site.
 
Two years after, the red brick warehouse finally recovered its past glory and is now the “House of Memories,” a new landmark in western Taipei.

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Photo by LRM
A selection of cultural and historical books on the first floor of the Mitsui Warehouse
offers a few glimpses of western Taipei’s changing landscape.

 
To celebrate its reopening, the committee decided to hold a special exhibition on the history and spatial development of western Taipei through a series of VR guided tours on the first floor. Historical documents are on display on the second floor. Chang Kun-chen, a professor of architecture at the National Taipei University of Technology curated this exhibition.
 
The VR technology makes it possible for exhibition visitors to experience the three major landmarks during the Japanese rule – the North Gate, Railway Division of Taiwan Governor-General’s Bureau of Transportation, and Mitsui Warehouse. They can also appreciate the former beauty of these historical buildings.
 
A selection of old photos and videos, as well as cultural and historical books, on the first floor also offers a few glimpses of the transformation of western Taipei.
 
Professor Chang said that the documents on display depict the transformation of western Taipei as seen through its buildings -- the North Gate, Taipei Station, North Gate Station, the Railway Division of Taiwan Governor-General’s Bureau of Transportation, Taipei Railway Workshop, Futai Street Mansion, the Central Post Office, the National Taiwan Museum, and Taipei Zhongshan Hall.
 
“Visitors can gain a better understanding of the structural and spatial development of western Taipei through more than 400 historical data and items,” he said.
 
Four major historical materials are being exhibited for the first time. They include the documents that Mitsui Group in Japan drafted to help rename the Mitsui Warehouse in Taipei, the original artifacts of Taipei Railway Workshop in 1908, a documentary of Mitsui senior executives’ visit to Taiwan in 1926, and the original models of the 1st generation Taipei Post Office and 2nd generation Taipei Station in 1913.
 
Exhibition Notes:

What: Special exhibition of Mitsui Warehouse turned into “House of Memories” (三井倉庫蛻變西區記憶倉庫特展)
When: October 31, 2018 through February 28, 2019
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed on Mondays
Where: Mitsui Warehouse, No. 265, Sec. 1, Zhongxiao W. Rd., Taipei
Admission: Free
On the net: https://goo.gl/RDdu59
Telephone: (02) 2371-4597