There is no doubt that tension stemming from territorial disputes between Japan and both China and Korea is making East Asia a volatile area. Even Taiwan, which has been known as a pro-Japanese country, sent fishing boats to the Senkaku Island area in protest of Japan’s nationalization.
But while mainland China is pulsing with anti-Japanese sentiment, Taiwan’s pro-Japanese stance has yet to waver and Japanese business men could be comforted that China’s influence on Taiwan did not reach so far as to change it. We spoke with one Japanese business man—we’ll call him Mr. T—who was in Taipei when anti-Japanese sentiments on the mainland were at their highest.
What he found was a higher level of pro-Japanese sentiment than we could have imagined. We’ve assembled Mr. T’s experiences for you below:
■ People came to my rescue when I got lost, showing me the way more than once!
The first time was when I was trying to head back to my hotel by bus. In Taiwan, they drive on the opposite side of the road as Japan and bus lanes are often the middle lane. For a first timer to Taiwan like me, finding the right bus stop took a lot of time. While looking around for clues at the side of the road an older couple drew close wanting to know where I needed to go. (I gathered from their chinese what they were saying) When I replied ‘bus’ they simultaneously pointed me in the right direction. They didn’t expect anything in return, showing genuine kindness.
In arriving at the bus stop I found that I couldn’t make out which bus line would take me to my destination. As I was glaring at the bus line map, trying to make some sense out of it, a young college age woman approached me. In stilted Japanese, she asked me, “Where are you going?” In telling her, she proceeded to stay by my side informing me “This isn’t it”, with the arrival of each bus, until around the third bus, she told me ‘This is it, get on this bus!” In the space of ten short minutes I was shown kindness after kindness. It is doubtful that anyone would be shown so much kindness, even in the rural areas of Japan.
■ Taxi drivers like talking to Japanese people, not even to drum up business!
Taxis in Taipei were inexpensive and convenient, so I rode them quite a lot. Every time I rode a taxi, the driver would want to speak to me in Japanese the best he could, even if he labored while doing it. When spoken to in contrived Japanese while in foreign countries, you feel like you have to be wary of ulterior motives, but I didn’t feel that in Taipei. It felt like they simply wanted to speak Japanese. They wanted to know which tourist sites I’d seen, making suggestions for the best night market while they were at it. One guy was particularly keen on giving me tips on tourist attractions. I replied, “I am on business, this is a business trip.” Seems I didn’t get through to him because he just kept right on. (laugh) Then I noticed he was turning into roads off the beaten track and I could help but think “he’s talking me for a ride.” Oh well, it is cheap… but when I checked a map later I found that he had avoided an area well congested with traffic by taking a short cut.
Japanese is better understood than English in Taipei. On another occasion I flagged down a taxi, giving the driver instructions, in English, to go to “Taipei station” He looked at me quizzically: “Station?” He started to ask for headquarters on his wireless about “station”. I rephrased it in Japanese. He immediately understood. “You’re Japanese? You should have said it in Japanese in the first place!” As I stepped out of the cab he gave me a little extra tip: “You should buy your gifts at Mitsukoshi department store basement. It’s a Japanese department store so you know you’ll get good quality!”
■ Every 200 meters there is a Japanese convenience store where the products and sign boards are all marked in Japanese.
There are Family Marts and Seven Elevens all over the place, so many that you can’t use them as landmarks to remember where something is. The products sold are mostly Japanese and the BGM is even J pop. It gives the uncanny illusion that this is some special convenience store in rural Japan.
Items sold which are targeted for young people like sweets and beauty aids all have Japanese written all over them but most of it is meaningless.
■ I was told by a local, “I’m really sorry.”
After work, I went out to a Tiwanese drinking establishment with some locals. I avoided any potentially touchy subjects like territorial disputes. But after a few drinks one of the guys mentioned something about being “awfully sorry”. When I asked him what he meant he said that everyone knows whose property those islands really are. “In this country we are in no position to speak against the People’s Republic of China’s claims. The KMT regime, Tawanese government, would be critisized as not being authentically Chinese if we speak out differently.” I felt the complexity of underlying feelings towards the mainland.
■ In closing –
The cost of living in Taiwan is a third of Japan’s. I found proof of this when buying beer and eating ramen, noodle soup. If you times the costs of these things by three you get the cost in Japan. What then popped into my mind was the amount of money Taiwan donated to the earthquake and tsunami fund in Japan which adds up to over 20 billion yen which is about 180 million dollars. Taking into account the difference in the cost of living…
In my experience of a weeks stay in Taipei, I found no evidence of any anti Japan sentiment anywhere. There was no small time swindling or persitant canvassing of the tourist which you have to be aware of accross Asia. With anti Japan sentiment so prevailant in many places it felt good to know that somebody loves us!
It looks like Mr. T was completely smitten by Taiwan! He did say that though his experience was good, it doesn’t mean that there is no possibility of bad things happening in Taiwan! It is just that compared to mainland China and Korea you are less likely to find evidence of anti Japan behavior in Taiwan, especially if you are a tourist.
As for the Taiwanese fishing vessels taking part in the demonstrations off Senkaku Island, it is said someone wanting to do business with the mainland paid them off to take part. It is hard to know what to believe, but it is evident that Japan still has a friend in Taiwan.
[ Read in Japanese ]