SPECIAL/Hot springs hotel-turned museum to celebrate 100th year

08/08/2020 06:30 PM
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Sitting on a hillside in Beitou, a century-old district that is home to Taiwan's oldest hot springs community, a two-story, wooden Japanese style building has been a permanent feature as long as anyone can remember.

Beitou Museum is set to celebrate its 100th year next year, with museum director Saalih Lee (李莎莉) saying that she hopes to breathe new life into the old building.

Built in 1921, the structure was initially the Kazen Hotel, the most luxurious hot springs resort in the region under Japanese colonial rule, Lee told CNA in an interview.

"This building celebrates the wabi-sabi aesthetic," Lee said, referring to the traditional Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

Visitors sit in a dry bath tub and watch a video about the building
Visitors sit in a dry bath tub and watch a video about the building's history.

Whether an unequal leaf door decorated with cloudy glass, a deserted bathhouse covered in green tile, or a hidden zen garden at the center of the building, it is hoped visitors will appreciate the museum building for its original style, she said.

In its early years the building was often used by the Japanese military and at one point it was a guesthouse for kamikaze pilots, said Lee, who has been museum director for 16 years.

The building changed hands after the Japanese withdrew from Taiwan in 1945 at the end of World War II, became a private museum in 1984 and was designated a historic site by Taipei City government in 1998, she said.

Despite its age, the 2,500-square meter structure remains full of vitality and now offers a combination of cultural exhibitions, dining events and recreational activities such as kimono fashion shows, according to Lee.

Saalih Lee, director of Beitou Museum.
Saalih Lee, director of Beitou Museum.

Having won the inaugural prize for preserving cultural heritage from the city government in July, the museum has more recently become a centerpiece of Taipei's projects to promote the idea of "wall-less museums" said deputy Mayor Tsai Ping-kun (蔡炳坤).

"Taipei is not only a bustling city but also a city that breathes," Tsai said.

Through such museums, which are largely based on local participation and aim to enhance the welfare and development of local communities, Taipei has more stories to tell about itself, raising public awareness about the importance of preserving cultural heritage, Tsai said.

Beitou is the perfect place for the Beitou Museum and similar facilities to thrive thanks to its relatively early development owing to the hot springs, according to the city.

Today, the area is also home to historic sites such as the Beitou Hot Spring Museum, Plum Garden, Grass Mountain Chateau and Taipei Beitou Public Assembly Hall, Lee said.

With the cultural sites sharing more resources and promotions, Lee hopes the number of visitors to the museum will surpass the current level of 50,000 each year.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)

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