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'Gofukushoten:' a renovated historic landmark in Tainan

02/08/2024 03:58 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, Feb. 8 (CNA) If you're still planning your Lunar New Year holiday itinerary, consider a visit to the newly renovated "Gofukushoten" building in Tainan, Taiwan's oldest city, as it celebrates its 400th anniversary in 2024.

Situated in the West Central District of downtown Tainan, the Gofukushoten building (五福商店), also known as the Five Blessings Store, completed its renovation in mid-January 2024, following a restoration project that began in 2018.

The restoration of this 17th-18th century Baroque-style building has been warmly received by the public, offering a glimpse into the city's prosperity in the early 1900s.

五福 refers to the five blessings: wealth (財), offspring (子), fortune (福), career success (祿) and longevity (壽). It is a phrase symbolizing auspiciousness in Chinese culture.

Gofukushoten was established by Yang Tien-ssu (楊天賜) in 1914 during the Japanese colonial period as the first department store in Taiwan owned by a Taiwanese, according to Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲).

At that time, other prominent department stores in Taiwan, such as Kikumoto Department Store (菊元百貨) in Taipei and Hayashi Department Store (林百貨) in Tainan, were established and owned by Japanese, Huang said.

From 1928-1930, Gofukushoten moved to its current location, which used to be called Ginza Street (銀座通) and is now known as Zhongzheng Road, the first business district in downtown Tainan, according to a recent post on Tainan Style, a website that tracks activities in the city.

Yang was a renowned merchant who imported a wide range of U.S. and European goods from Nagasaki, including toothpaste, soap, phonograph records, and gramophones. The store also offered insurance policies, reflecting its diverse business portfolio.

In the three-story building, the first floor used to serve as the retail department while the second and third housed the wholesale department.

According to the Tainan mayor, the building is still owned by Yang's descendants. After leasing the building for some time, the current owners decided to retain it and give the 95-year old structure a makeover by working with the government under the city's subsidiary program for historical districts and historic house renovation.

The renovation project, which cost approximately NT$31 million (US$993,589), received over NT$19 million in funding from the public sector over the four-year period, Huang said.

Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-che (right) listens to a briefing of the renovation project on Jan. 13, 2024. CNA file photo
Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-che (right) listens to a briefing of the renovation project on Jan. 13, 2024. CNA file photo

The renovation focused on restoring the flower and grass embossed totems surrounding the Chinese character "福" (fortune) on the gable wall, showcasing the craftsmanship of the era after the character had faded over time.

Other embossed characters and phrases in Japanese and Chinese on the building's façade, including "GOFUKUSHOTEN," "五福商店," "歐米百貨" (merchandise from Europe and the United States), and "階上卸部" (wholesale department upstairs), have also been restored. Damaged glazed tiles and other decorations on the façade have been repaired as well.

Inside the building, hidden downspouts and lighting have been replaced, while areas damaged by dampness and termites, as well as uneven floors, have been repaired.

The main roof ridge of the building was decorated with a painted traditional Taoism symbol or Taichi (太極), surrounded by eight diagrams (八卦 or bagua). The renovation has breathed new life into the design.

Bagua is used in Taoist cosmology to represent the fundamental principles of reality, and all creatures, while the Taichi consists of a black and a white fish signaling a universe comprised of yin (陰) and yang (陽).

The renovation highlights the efforts made by the building owners and the Ministry of Culture to preserve the almost 100-year old building and bring an impressive art work back to the public, Huang said.

He expressed hope that owners of other old buildings on Zhongzheng Road would participate in the city's historical house renovation program to rejuvenate their properties.

Huang also suggested that the best way to appreciate the Gofukushoten building is to take a slow walk on Zhongshan Road and stand nearby to take in its magnificence.

"The experience can be enhanced by holding a cup of hot coffee or tea in the cold weather and allowing the steam to rise along with your thoughts, taking you on a journey through time and space with the building," Huang wrote in a Facebook post.

The Tainan Culture Affairs Bureau said the owners of Gofukushoten are seeking like-minded tenants to work together to maintain the building.

(By Chang Jung-hsiang and Frances Huang)

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