The Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945)

Fifty years of Taiwan under Japanese rule saw architectural evolution in many ways. Minnan, Japanese and Western styles coexisted side-by-side, reinforced concrete structures replaced traditional wooden ones, and Western trained Japanese architects after the Meiji Restoration left many brick buildings in various Japanese colonies with styles varying from Gothic to Baroque. The so-called International Style and Imperial Crown Style also emerged during this period.



The Japanese exerted great influence on Taiwan during their rule. They began by focusing on the improvement of transport, sanitation and education and established an effective governing body. Drastic changes occurred in Taiwan’s society after 1920—various social philosophies developed, nationalism and democracy were popularized, and artistic styles became equally multifarious, galvanizing diverse architectural designs.

In 1895, the Japanese army entered Taiwan and took over Keelung. Taiwanese locals revolted valiantly and initiated many conflicts with the army. To effectively tackle these anti-Japanese forces, the army reinforced self-policing and law-enforcement systems on the island.

During the mid-period of Japanese colonization, two-pronged policies encompassing both high-pressure and placation tactics successfully eradicated all guerrilla resistance in Taiwan. A massive police force was dispatched to monitor civilian activities, detailed household and land registry systems were initiated, the Taiwan Bank was established to standardize currency with the Japan Empire, and telecommunication networks were developed. In 1908, a railway system linking Keelung to Kaohsiung was completed, Keelung and Kaohsiung ports went under expedited repair and renovation, and the “Green Revolution” was launched to turn Taiwan into the “kingdom of rice and sugar”.

Enlightened by various new ideas, many Taiwanese individuals who received their education in Japan began pushing for political, social and cultural reforms and demanded equal treatment. In 1921, a group of activists including Jiang Wei-shui founded the Taiwanese Cultural Association in Taipei. Its mission was to enhance the knowledge and political awareness of the Taiwanese people through local cultural activities, with a view to awakening their self-awareness and specifically critical thinking towards Japanese colonial policies. In 1927, Jiang founded the Taiwan People’s Party, the first political party in Taiwan. However, suppression by Taiwan’s Governor-General caused the gradual disintegration of these political parties and factions.

Taiwan also began embarking on a different developmental direction from Japan and Mainland China in literature, fine arts, paintings, etc., due to its social activism and influence from Western cultures and China’s New Culture Movement. 1920 saw the birth of Taiwan’s New Literature Movement, where the vernacular Chinese language was promoted over classical Chinese. In 1933, Taiwanese writers first banded with Japanese writers to form the Taiwan Writer’s Association and then later independently founded the Taiwan Writer’s Alliance. Other forms of art and expression like paintings, sculpture, music, TV and radio broadcasting were also introduced to Taiwan during this period.

In 1936, the Governor-General of Taiwan founded a corporation to promote industrialization of Taiwan as part of Japan’s “industry in Taiwan, agriculture in Southeast Asia” colonial policy. Aluminum foundries, hydro and thermal power stations were established in Kaohsiung port. After the Pearl Harbor incident, however, there was a policy shift to ensure Taiwan’s industrial self-sufficiency, resulting in the first 5-year productivity proliferation plan and the first time in its history Taiwan’s industrial productivity surpassed agricultural productivity.

The American military launched a bombardment of Taiwan in 1944, destroying many government offices and factories and bringing industrial productivity almost to a complete halt. The Japanese military exerted strict control over newspapers and broadcasts and blocked any war-related news.

Sealed off from any military, economic and financial information, Taiwanese people had no assurance of their freedom, and rumors and anxiety filled the streets. All major cities in Taiwan were under attack rage, people’s lives were interrupted by constant air raids, and many city dwellers were forced to relocate to the countryside. On August 15, 1945, Japan declared an unconditional surrender. On October 25 of the same year, the last Governor General Ando Rikichi signed an official surrender at Taipei City Hall, formally marking an end to Japan’s rule of Taiwan.

People and Culture


The Japanese employed a strategy of cultural assimilation and placation by teaching their language to the locals and putting in place three separate education systems for the Japanese, Han and aborigines. Meanwhile, policies specifically formulated for the aborigines were enforced at this time to ensure their submissiveness. Japan’s civil code, criminal code and commercial laws as well as limited local self-governance were also implemented in Taiwan, which was now divided into a three-level administrative hierarchy of state, city and neighborhood.

Socially, the Governor-General endeavored to eliminate the “three vices”: opium, foot binding (for women) and queues (for men).

Sanitation systems were enhanced, sewage networks were improved and efforts were made to eradicate rats. Other measures which would have profound influence on Taiwan’s city infrastructure was also implemented: use of the lunar calendar was replaced by that of the Gregorian one; clocks were placed on streets to improve the locals’ punctuality; programs to improve existing streets and build new streets were carried out in cities.

Economically, the Governor-General conducted a series of reforms in the sugar industry to raise Taiwan’s sugar productivity, including introducing sugar cane varieties with higher sugar content, upgrading the production process and rewarding sugar manufacturers. To lure capital investment in the sugar industry, a system was put in place where farmers were only permitted to sell sugar cane to plants close to their farms at prices determined by the plants. As a result, many major Japanese financial groups were attracted to set up sugar-production businesses in Taiwan, forcing out every local conventional sugar-maker and becoming a monopoly.