TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The number of Japanese tourists traveling to Taiwan has been surging in recent years, with Japanese now the second largest group of visitors to Taiwan after Chinese, partly because of history but also because of the creature comforts that make Japanese visitors feel at home.
Last year, there were 1.89 million Japanese visitors in Taiwan, according to the Tourism Bureau, representing a 16% increase from the previous year.
Unlike China, Korea, and other countries that were occupied by the Empire of Japan at various stages during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Taiwan benefited from a relatively more magnanimous colonial leader, Shimpei Goto, who stamped out opium, started major infrastructure projects, and built schools and hospitals. As a result, to this day there are some elderly who fondly recall the days of Japanese rule and can still converse in the language with Japanese tourists.
With more positive recollections of Japanese rule by the older generations and virtually no anti-Japanese propaganda in film or the media, the younger generation of Taiwanese are also generally more welcoming of Japanese as well. In fact, Japan was the top destination for Taiwanese travelers in 2016 according to a Visa Inc. survey.
While Japanese feel anxiety over visiting China and Korea due to ongoing disputes in the East China Sea, Japanese visitors find Taiwan much more hospitable. When asked why he did not want to travel to China or Korea, architect Kazuhiro kitana, 44, said "It is very difficult for Japanese to travel to China, but Taiwanese people are very friendly."
Akane Hashimoto, 20, a management major at Hosei University in Tokyo when asked about the possibility of visiting China said "For me, I'm a little bit scared to go because some Chinese maybe hate Japanese."
Many Japanese enjoy visiting Taiwan simply because of the lower cost of goods and foods. Kitana, who is from Hokkaido, says that it's very convenient to travel to Taiwan because there are direct flights from the island's major airport in Sapporo to Taoyuan International Airport.
Traveling to Taiwan is not only cheaper than certain neighboring countries such as South Korea, housewife Shino Tsutsui, 53, said that traveling in Taiwan is actually cheaper than traveling in Japan in every way.
Taiwan's food and tea is well known to tourists around the world and Japanese visitors are no exception. Places where Japanese like to sample food in Taipei include the restaurant chain Din Tai Feng, Taipei's many night markets, and Yongkang Street.
The setting of 2001 Japanese anime fantasy film "Spirited Away" by renown director Hayao Miyazaki and produced by the famous Studio Ghibli was inspired by the old gold mining town of Jiufen, which has since been a highly popular spot with Japanese tourists.
Since the Taiwanese film "Kano," about a Taiwanese high school baseball team which made it to the finals of the all-Japan Koshien summer tournament in Kobe in 1931, came out in 2014, growing numbers of Japanese tourists have begun to visit a museum dedicated to the team in an old colonial era Japanese building in Chiayi City.
Though Martin Scorsese's latest film "Silence" is supposed to have taken place in Japan, it was actually shot entirely in Taiwan, and some of the locales of the movie may gain interest by Japanese tourists as it already has with other nationalities. One location featured in the film that tourists have started to frequent is the Mystery Coast of New Taipei's Jinshan District.
Kanji, one of the three written scripts used in Japanese, owe their origins to the traditional Chinese characters used in Taiwan, so Japanese can often read signs, menus, maps, and can communicate by writing the characters when traveling in Taiwan.
Ironically, because Japan has undergone so much modernization since the end of WWII, in some cases there are better preserved examples of Japanese architecture from the early 20th century in Taiwan than in many cities in Japan. Therefore, Japanese tourists are drawn to places such as the Presidential Office, the Control Yuan, Dihua Street, Red House, Beitou Hot Spring Museum, and Qidong Old Street.
Compared with the strict set of protocols Japanese must follow when interacting with their peers in Japan, Taiwanese behavior in public settings is more casual and less formal, giving them a chance to relax and take a break from the rigors of Japanese society.
Taiwan is perceived to be safer than some of its Southeast Asian neighbors, and indeed the murder rate in the Philippines at 9 per 100,000 was triple that of the 3 per 100,000 in Taiwan, according to the UNODC in 2013. Vietnam has a crime index 52.96 and Malaysia has a crime index of 64.75, while Taiwan's crime index is 17.24, according the Numbeo's 2017 Crime Index by Country in 2017.
Adult and Ethereal Entertainment
On the seedy side of things is Taipei's red light district on Linsen North Road in Zhongshan District. Many hotels, massage parlors, KTV bars, and piano bars in the area are festooned with signs in Japanese, indicating a significant part of their customers originate from Japan.
Not all Japanese visiting the area are seeking erotic entertainment, many simply stay in Zhongshan District because of the lower cost of the hotels and their centralized location, or to get their fortune read at Xingtian Temple. A user on the popular online forum PTT said it best, "Obasan (grandmas) go to Xingtian Temple, Ojisan (grandpas) go to Linsen North Road."
Located in Datong District, another popular temple with Japanese is Xia-Hai City God Temple (台北霞海城隍廟) on Dihua Street, which is where young people pray to find a significant other.