The first thing you would probably notice when in Taiwan, is how evident and wide-spread its Japanese influence is. We saw a mini Shinjuku, a mini Shibuya, and read about some onsens (hot spring baths) in some other places outside of Taipei.
So I couldn’t help but google why Japan has so much presence in Taiwan. Turns out, Taiwan was ceded to Japan at the end of the first Sino-Japanese war, and Japan took over Taiwan for 50 years.
So I put my phone down and exclaimed, “that explains it”. Mary and I both fell in love with Japan and are planning to go back there real soon. So tasting Japan while in Taiwan was a bit of a pleasant surprise for us.
In this blog, you would read about the two places we’ve been to that have Japanese influence, and Japanese food in Taiwan. For non-Japanese food in Taiwan, you may click here.
JUIFEN (ju-fen) – Spirited Away in an old Japanese Gold Mine
We visited it on the first day we got to Taiwan and I initially made a booking using Klook to shuttle us from Ximen to Jiufen and Shifen and back to Ximen. However, we overslept and missed the shuttle (which was already paid for by the way). So we took our easy time and took the public bus instead. You can even release a sky lantern in one of the old rail tracks in Pingxi.
Unlike our dreadful experience in riding a bus in Macau and Kyoto (no English translations when they announced the name of the bus stop), the trip to Jiufen was pretty easy. If you’re traveling there, you might as well go to Shifen and see the Golden Waterfalls, and Yehliu Geopark in one go. For us though, we wanted this trip light and easy and not too cramped up.
In hindsight, this is the place where you SHOULD buy all the pasalubong and souvenirs since they’re much cheaper here than anywhere else in Taipei.
Food tripping here is also a must, as you get lost in to the alleys of this mountain town. If you’re a fan of the mini-animated feature Spirited Away, arguably the best in its field, has a high resemblance to this town.
To get there: Take the train (Green line) and alight at the Songshan terminal station, walk to the Songshan bus station and wait for bus #1062 bound to Quan Ji Tang. Bus takes $87 from Songshan.
XIMEN – Mini Shibuya and Shinjuku in the heart of Taipei
Famous for its backpackers inns, hostels and capsule hotels, Ximen is also a place with a strong Japanese feel. The pedestrian exit of the Ximen train station has Shibuya-like criss-crossed pedestrian lanes. It has a lot of Japanese cafes and restaurants which, to our surprise, needed a reservation.
You can find anything and everything here – shoes, winter clothes, cellphone accessories which they’re really big at), street food, a 5-floor H&M store, Starbucks, Tomod’s, budding artists singing, dancing or playing their instruments and a lot more.
Don’t forget to take the pedestrian exit when getting off the Ximen station.
To get there: Take the train, take the Blue or Green line and alight at Ximen station.
ONSEN – Japanese hot springs in Taiwan
Largely popular among Taiwanese is the onsen (hot spring bath), and it’s all around Taiwan. The top is the one in Beitou and we didn’t plan on going to one but it’s worth mentioning since some of you who may have not been to Japan yet, may want to go to one in Taiwan.
JAPANESE FOOD – Ramen, Sushi, Katsu, and more
In the nearest train station from where we rented an AirBNB room, there is a building full of Japanese restaurants and stores. So we tried it out on our last morning to have some brunch.
We didn’t really want to indulge to Japanese food while in Taiwan but due to the long days and exhausting trips, we wanted to eat rice and couldn’t find it anywhere else except for Japanese restaurants.
It was nostalgic being in Taiwan, how it reminded us, and made us miss more, Japan. But at the same time it made us see Taiwan as a slightly relaxed, friendlier Chinese state than their Beijing counterpart. They also have more English-speaking cab drivers and citizens who are more willing to assist lost and wandering tourists.