Seeds is a photography column that seeks to explore and promote just causes by highlighting individuals‘ efforts. These individuals are seeds of justice and resistance, and seeds for social movements and social changes.
ON FEBRUARY 13TH, at the Tainan earthquake disaster site, I saw about 20 Japanese volunteers wearing Taiwan Presbyterian Church vests with Japanese flags displayed on their clothes or badges. In the supply section, the Japanese volunteers outnumbered the Taiwanese volunteers. I spoke to a few of them, and the common sentiment among the Japanese volunteers was that the felt compelled to help with the rescue effort, since Taiwan donated the most money out of all the nations in the aftermath of 3.11 earthquake that ravaged Japan back in 2011. Akiko Kitayama, a professional pool player who lives and works in Tainan, said “When somebody is in trouble, and it is someone who has helped us before, of course, we would help them. You [the Taiwanese people] helped us and we weren’t even your friends, so of course we came to help. Japan and Taiwan will be best friends forever.”
Most of the volunteers also had wanted to volunteer since the first day, but the opportunity did not present itself until Masaki Tsuji, a local resident in Tainan, posted on Facebook, informing people they would be able to enter the disaster area to help through the Taiwan Presbyterian Church. He brought along some 15 volunteers. There were also others who came through the Presbyterian Church themselves without seeing the Facebook notification. For example, Mew Hatta, a student studying agriculture in Taipei, who had experience working with the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church at the Japanese Christian Disaster Victim Relief Center of the Northeast District during the rescue effort of 3.11.
There were also Japanese volunteers who said they would have helped regardless—Hiroyuki Yamada who lives in the neighborhood and runs a Japanese shop in Tainan, and Reiko Akamine, a student at Cheng Kung University.
In Taiwanese media, much has been discussed about Japanese sympathies and aids towards Tainan earthquake. While some organized efforts are certainly politically motivated, upon seeing and talking to actual Japanese volunteers, even the most hardened observers would conclude that the bond between two peoples is genuine.
While most would interpret the relationship now between the two nations as friendly, the history and politics of Taiwan and Japan is not as simple as it appears on the surface. As of now, Taiwan’s government is still not formally recognized by Japan, and after Japanese colonization, most Taiwanese people celebrated the occasion of end of Japanese occupation after World War II. It was not until KMT’s brutal rule in Taiwan that the general Taiwanese attitude towards the Japanese gradually softened to the point that the Japanese occupation is often seen with a sense of nostalgia. Japan’s role as a former colonizer of Taiwan can be seen as having started modernization process and building of important modern infrastructure that is still in use today, but as well as environmental and ecological exploitation of the island (often to build the aforementioned infrastructure), subjugation, and in some cases, brutal killing of its population, establishing ruling foundation later continued with the KMT regime.
However, on the grassroots and interpersonal level, the bond between the two cultures has been born out of the contradictions and complication of history and politics, and this is especially apparent during times of disaster. It is without question that the Taiwanese and Japanese have developed deep appreciation for one another.