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Shinzo Abe Statue is Also a Tribute to Bilateral Relations With Taiwan 

Upon visiting the statue in Taiwan commemorating late PM Shinzo Abe, Dr Robert D Eldridge reports on local sentiments and the depth of bilateral friendship.



Shinzo Abe
Statue of former Japaense Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a memorial to the friendship he promoted with Taiwan. At the Hongmaogang Bao'an Temple in Fengshan, Taiwan. (© Robert D Eldridge)

Six months to the day that a statue was erected in honor of slain Japanese former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, I had the opportunity to visit the port city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where the statue is erected. I was there to pay my respects to the officials of the temple where it stands. 

Not only was I impressed by the likeness to Mr Abe, but I was overwhelmed by their hospitality and the generosity and humanity they displayed in designing and building the statue in the first place.

As readers know, former Prime Minister Abe was assassinated on July 8, 2022. At the time, he was on the campaign trail for a candidate in Nara Prefecture in the 2022 national Upper House election. While the circumstances are still under investigation, he was pronounced dead the same day after being shot.

Within days of the attack, temple officials decided to have the sculpture honoring Abe, Japan's longest serving prime minister and a strong supporter of Taiwan, made and erected on the grounds. This was done on September 24.

Shinzo Abe
The author and Taiwanese friend visit the Shinzo Abe memorial sculpture at Hongmaogang Bao'an Temple in Taiwan. (© Robert D Eldridge)

Honoring Shared History and Values

The temple, Hongmaogang Bao'an (紅毛港保安堂) in the Fengshan (鳳山) District of the city, has an interesting connection with Japan. It honors the spirits of a Japanese naval officer, Lieutenant Matao Takata, and the 145 crew members of the No 38 Patrol Boat (第三十八号哨戒艇). They all died when their ship, returning from Manila to Kaohsiung, was sunk on November 25, 1944. It had been struck by a torpedo.

The temple has a large prominent photo of Lieutenant Takata and the names of all crew members. It also has a scale-size version of the ship and many other items relating to the Imperial Japanese Navy and Japan in general.

The life-size statue of Prime Minister Abe was handcrafted by Taiwanese sculptors Chou Jui-ming (周瑞明) and Yeh Chin-cheng (葉金城). They delivered it to the temple on September 16, a week before it was unveiled.

It is a bronze statue standing upon a pedestal engraved with the phrase "Taiwan's Eternal Friend (台湾永遠的明友)" and is surrounded by grass and cypress tree donated by a temple supporter. The area has been renamed the "Garden of Remembrance."

Behind the garden and statue, which are located on the side of the temple, is a painting of Mount Fuji. In front of the painting is a display of lanterns bearing all the names of the aforementioned crew members. 

Shinzo Abe
The life-size statue of Mr Abe was handcrafted by Taiwanese sculptors Chou Jui-ming and Yeh Chin-cheng © Robert D Eldridge)

A Tribute to Friendship and Freedom

To the left of the statue is a large cream colored stone in which the phrase "Good luck, Taiwan Abe Shinzo (台湾加油 安倍晋三)" is engraved in red in Abe's own handwriting. It is taken from the message he sent to the people of Taiwan following the Hualien Earthquake that struck eastern Taiwan in February 2018. 

About 300 people attended the September 24 unveiling ceremony. Reported among them were Control Yuan (監察院) President Chen Ju (陳菊) and lawmakers Hsu Chih-chieh (許智傑) and Lai Jui-lung (賴瑞隆). 

Chen spoke about how Abe was a close friend of Taiwan and how he promoted Taiwan internationally and its strategic importance. She also related Abe's recognition of the need to protect Taiwan's freedom, democracy, dignity, and sovereignty. 

Additionally, she noted that many people in the country were saddened by his loss.This is something I felt strongly during my stay in Taiwan.

Shinzo Abe exhibition
Shinzo Abe photo exhibition (© Sankei)

Shinzo Abe Photo Exhibition

During this same time, I attended a photo exhibition of Shinzo Abe's life co-sponsored by The Sankei Shimbun and local organizations in the nation's capital of Taipei. Hundreds attended the exhibition's first day on March 27, including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). And thousands were expected to attend the two-week event ending April 10. 

I am not surprised. Everywhere I went in Taiwan people mentioned how tragic Abe's death was.

I asked my hosts at the temple, Chang Chi-hsiung (張吉雄) and Lin Sen-hao (林森豪), about the visitors they have received since the statue was installed. I was told there have been more than 2,000 formal visitors. This number does not include the many who have arrived unannounced and simply looked or paid their respects at the memorial.

In fact, I did not have an appointment but was generously welcomed. I was brought there by a good friend. He is a former Taiwanese Marine from the city who is a regular visitor to Japan and actively promotes closer relations between Taiwan and Japan at all levels. 

Previously he had visited the temple to see the statue. That day, however, was his first time to speak with officials there. He enjoyed the visit as much as I did. And we both learned a lot about the history of the temple's relationship with Japan and the efforts behind making the statue.

Shinzo Abe
Statue of former Japaense Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also a memorial to the friendship he promoted with Taiwan. At the Hongmaogang Bao'an Temple in Fengshan, Taiwan. (© Robert D Eldridge)

Magnet for Friendship

Some famous visitors from Japan have included Hiroshige Seko, former Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and Shinsuke Suematsu, former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. In addition, a dozen other members of the parliament from the Abe faction made the trip, including Hiroshi Yamada and Hiroyuki Kada, who visited at the end of December.

I know of two other well known commentators from Japan who visited the statue days before and after me. So I imagine that there will be a large increase in visitors, with travel conditions eased for both countries now. Indeed, while I was meeting with the temple officials, a well known expert on Taiwan from Japan suddenly showed up on short notice.

Temple officials mentioned to the visiting group of parliamentarians that they intended to commission a second statue to be erected in Japan. Let's hope they are successful. It would be the most fitting way to commemorate the friendship that Abe sought to promote.

Shinzo Abe
"Good luck, Taiwan Abe Shinzo" as well as Abe's signature is engraved in red in Abe's own handwriting as a message of encouragement for Taiwan after the 2018 Hualien Earthquake. (© Robert D Eldridge)


Author: Robert D Eldridge

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