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Outlying county looks to World War II past to lure tourists

2012/06/30 21:34:17

Taipei, June 30 (CNA) Taiwan's outlying county of Penghu is turning aspects of its military past into new attractions to promote local tourism, the Penghu National Scenic Area Administration said recently.

A total of NT$30 million (US$1 million) will be invested in a project to rehabilitate the five fleet depots in Wangan Township to recreate the historic scenery of World War II, when Taiwan was under Japanese rule, according to the administration.

The depots were used by the Japanese army for their Shinyo boats -- suicide craft capable of carrying up to 250 kilograms of explosives, said tourism official Tsai Chi-hsien.

"We are cleaning up the tunnels and forts, so tourists can come and explore the military bases themselves, sit in Shinyo boat replicas and take pictures with models of Japanese soldiers," Tsai said.

He said the rebuilt historic facilities are expected to be open to the public by next summer, with the aim of attracting 200,000 more tourists per year for Penhgu.

Currently, the island receives some 500,000 tourists every year, with only about 5 percent of them being foreign nationals.

Tsai said the new attractions could raise the number of foreign tourists to Penghu, especially as many visitors from Japan and China are interested in World War II history.

Another highlight of the project is a 15-minute documentary that tells the stories of Japanese and Taiwanese soldiers during the war who thought they would never be able to leave the island alive.

The documentary, directed by Gang Lee -- brother of world-renowned Ang Lee, features an interview with an 89-year-old former Shinyo squadron member.

Yoshiaki Haza, who was invited by Taiwan's Tourism Bureau to re-visit Penghu last year, said it was a dreamlike experience to go back to the island.

In a memoir of his war experiences, Haza said he and his military comrades watched the suicide boats being destroyed after Japan had lost the war.

"The fact that Shinyo faded in such a modest way was beyond our imagination," Haza said. "We felt empty."

After World War II, the Republic of China (Taiwan) government took control of the depots and they continued to serve as depots for a nearby army base. However, they are mostly abandoned now.

About two years ago, three Control Yuan members concluded that the depots could be turned into tourism attractions after conducting a field trip to Penghu, a trip that led to the island's bid to re-position itself in the tourism market.

"We came to realize that storytelling is the most effective way to promote ourselves, and Penghu has a lot of stories to tell," Tsai said.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)