Saturday, December 10, 2016

KIshu An 1917

Taipei’s Kishu An 1917, also known as Kishu An Forest of Literature (紀州庵文學森林) isn’t the only place in Taiwan where the date of its establishment has been made part of its name. The best-known example is the cultural facility called Huashan 1914 Creative Park, but there’s also Chiayi Arboretum 1907. The latter is an urban forest filled with hoop pines as well as teak and mahogany trees.

Despite its name, there aren’t many trees at Kishu An, though it is a lovely patch of green in one of the capital’s older, grayer neighbourhoods. The real attraction here is Japanese architecture, specifically the restored (‘rebuilt from scratch’ may be a more accurate description, as fires in the 1990s ravaged the original structures) main building. Constructed almost entirely of wood in 1927 or 1928 to house the high-class restaurant which had been operating on this site since 1917, it attains a level of elegance matched by very few Taiwanese-designed structures. 

Back in the Japanese colonial period, diners could sit inside and look out across the Xindian River, about 100m away. Nowadays, however, the waterway is hidden behind a tall concrete anti-flood barrier. There’s currently little to see inside Kishu An - no restaurant, at any rate - but in a way that’s the point. It’s ideal if you want to sit somewhere (on a Japanese-style tatami mat - there are no chairs), take in the peaceful surroundings and read.

The site’s restoration was overseen by Taipei City Government, and a few hours after my visit, I showed the official leaflet to a friend. He straightaway commented: ‘I have trouble telling those places apart.’ I know what he means; in the past decade, I've lost count of the number of similar places done up and opened to the public. If you’ve already been to somewhere like the Xinhua Butokuden in Tainan, you needn’t go out of your way to take a look at Kishu An. But if you do find yourself in this part of the capital and feel like killing some time, consider stopping by. And while you’re here, do take a look at the very pleasant Taipei City Hakka Cultural Park.

Kishu An is at 107 Tongan St and open 10:00-17:00 Tue-Sun. The nearest metro station is Guting on the MRT's Green and Orange lines. Admission is free.

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