Archives for category: japan

The Paiwan people of Southern Taiwan traditionally carve beautiful, evocative ancestor pillars of stone and wood. These pillars have graced the houses of noble families for hundreds of years.

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My sketch of “Tjivuluwan,” a very old male ancestral figure associated with the Paiwan community of Jiaping. The community allows depictions of this pillar to be made public.

National Taiwan University’s Anthropology Museum has taken care of many ancestral pillars that were ‘collected’ in the 1930s from villages that were abandoned during the terrible period of relocation of indigenous people by the Japanese colonial government.

Recently, Dr. Chia-Yu Hu and Museum staff have worked with Paiwan communities to create the best plan for caring for these ancestral pillars. This success shows the power of people working together from two very different sides of the cultural heritage landscape: very inspiring.

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“Guma” or ‘father’s elder sister’, a Paiwan elder of noble lineage, at 87 remembers Japanese rule and traditional millet cultivation. “I never knew envy”, she says.

Part of being an anthropologist who studies ‘the long view’ is interviewing people — most of them older than oneself. I am no longer a young woman, but feel humble and deferential in front of these folks.

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The Paiwan elder lady to the right chews betel nut, a mild stimulant with more than 3,500 years of history on Taiwan. Her niece to the left in profile looks Polynesian to me: and we know Polynesians are linked linguistically and genetically to Taiwan’s tribal people.

From Amis, Atayal, and Paiwan tribal communities, my indigenous interviewees range in age from 50 to 87 years old.

Most of them have lived through famine, wars, and the loss of their culture and language. One Amis lady, Zhong Mama, told us sadly that her two sons and daughter are already dead. And yet they share their knowledge with me, smile, offer me food and rice wine, dress me in their ritual clothes, even scratch my back when I can’t reach a mosquito bite.

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An Amis elder with the skull of a large Formosan boar that her husband caught with a snare.

When Dad is with me (he is 81), the old folks relax visibly. The grannies flirt a little, try to get him to speak Japanese with them (you have to be at least 80 now to have been in school during the Japanese colonial period, which ended with WWII in 1945).

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Dad asking an Amis elder about cultivating ferns in the forest.

My goal: to get old enough to share knowledge and show kindness to a young and curious person!

 

Sometimes during my life as an anthropologist I am overwhelmed by incredible events; things that seem to come out of books or dreams. Last week in the small town of Atolan on the beautiful east coast of Taiwan I watched as a whole pig, spreadeagled, was slowly turned on a huge grid-shaped spit over roaring flames.

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Amis tribal members preparing pork for a special lunch to bring home the spirits of lost WWII warriors.

Siki Sufin, a sculptor of the Amis tribe, has been dreaming of the restless spirits of Amis warriors: men who were conscripted by the Japanese military to fight in the second world war. Many of these men, who fought in New Guinea, the Philippines, and other islands of the Pacific Theater, never returned. You remember those stories of old Japanese soldiers who hid for 30 years in the jungle only to emerge in the 1970s? One man, Attun Paladin (Teruo Nakamura was his Japanese name) was an Amis tribal soldier.

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Attun Palalin, also known as Suniuo or Teruo Nakamura, an Amis soldier who held out on the tiny island of Morotai for decades. Garlanded with flowers upon his return to Taiwan in the mid-1970s. Photo credit to the Taipei Times, available in the public domain.

This sculpture by Mr. Sufin invokes the spirits of Amis warriors to fly back home to Taiwan and be at rest.

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A fabulous chainsaw sculpture by Amis artist Siki Sufin shows wings raised in flight for returning soldiers’ spirits. This is a cast: the original was dedicated in New Guinea.

To tempt their appetites, Siki sponsored a lively pig roast and sing at the community center. The aroma of roast pork rose into the pearly grey sky along with voices raised in complex woven songs. My eyes burned from the beauty of the songs and the fumes of millet liquor that was continually pressed into my hands…

While visiting Kyoto last week I was enchanted by the Gion District–the variety of food and shopping is stunning. Many of the stores are small businesses, still family owned. One beautiful clear evening I walked with the happy throngs until I limped and still couldn’t see it all.

The restaurants, candy and tea stores, and ice cream shops all are beautifully appointed, spotless, and showcase uniquely Japanese plastic replica food art in big shiny windows. Here is my favorite display of the night: img_0205The middle rows show really unique parfait ice cream pairings with matcha cubes, mochi balls, and chunks of sweet potato with sesame seeds. But zoom in on the top row: from left to right you can spot french fries, breaded pork cutlets, fried prawns, and my boyfriend’s pick, ‘American Dog Parfait’–by which is meant corn dog complete with ketchup and mustard. It might seem bizarre to us, but I think it is a perfect example of that flavor called ‘umami’ in Japanese that combines salty/savory/sweet.

I was stuffed from dinner so will have to return to Kyoto, starve myself all day, and then go to this amazing parfait joint.

In my closet hangs a lightweight gossamer cotton kimono, properly termed a yukata. My auntie Gwan sewed it for me 30 years ago, when I was in high school. This lovely garment is a testament to the Japanese colonial period from 1895-1945, when my father’s family–all Chinese, of course–were Japanese citizens, wore kimono, spoke Japanese, ate Japanese cuisine, went to Japanese schools, and even went by Japanese nicknames. My uncles still go by Taka, Susumu, Toshi, my father’s nickname is Naho.

China ceded Taiwan to Japan in the 1890s after losing a naval war. And the legacy lives on.

For the past week I’ve been in Kyoto, with complex emotions roiling through me regarding Japanese history and its impacts on China, Taiwan, and my own family. But as I walked the streets, especially in twilight, the magic of Kyoto was everywhere. Here is a cup of cold sake and sashimi that I enjoyed in a tiny restaurant near the Imperial Palace.

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Freshest sashimi I’ve ever had. Sweet and delicate.

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Nothing beats an overflowing cup of cold sake on a steamy August evening.