Taiwan’s Ninomiya Kinjirō Statues

金瓜石二宮金次郎 Jinguashi Ninomiya Kinjirō

Taiwan’s Ninomiya Kinjirō Statues
Yomiuri Shimbun: 台湾の二宮金次郎像
Kazuhide Minamoto, Yomiuri Shimbun Taipei Correspondent, January 28, 2010

Taiwan.  A Japanese colony for 50 years until the end of World War II.   For two years after assuming my post here, I kept seeing Japan’s shadow in abandoned buildings and old memorials.  But statues of that admired figure who was thriftier than any other child are passing on the Japanese spirit in this country even now.

The first time I saw him was a year ago.  To confirm the rumor that a stone statue of him was here, I went to a tourist site called Jinguashi on the outskirts of Taipei.   He was on the grounds of the Daoist Quanji Temple.  The likeness of the one-meter tall statue was obvious even from afar: a youth reading a book while carrying firewood on his back.  Ages ago, this Ninomiya Kinjirō statue would have decorated the grounds of an elementary or junior high school.

Ninomiya was born in the late Edo Period and rose from being a farmer to a retainer of the shogunate on the strength of his hard work.  He lived a life of gratitude and honest labor and saved over 600 poor villages.  To borrow a phrase from Uchimura Kanzō, he is a “representative of the Japanese.”

I was so overcome with nostalgia that I let out a whistle.   But why did the young Ninomiya, who was supposed to be poor, have such plump cheeks and large ears?   I asked an elderly Japanese-speaking local about the statue’s origin.  He said that when the temple was built in 1936, a stone mason brought here from the continent was asked by his Taiwanese parents to carve the statue “for the sake of the neighborhood [Japanese and Taiwanese] children’s education.”

In contrast with the Japanese image, the Chinese creations are gifts intended to bring good luck.  His mother and father were deeply impressed with the work and felt ashamed of their imprudence in asking for it.  From then on, however, Ninomiya statues were requested all over Taiwan.

The largest is in Pingtung County, Changjhih Township’s Changhsin Elementary School.  In 2005, alumni spent $500,000 NTD (about 1.4 million yen) to buy the 150cm tall bronze statue from an antique store.  It was a mold left over from the Japanese colonial period.

None of the benefactors knew it was Ninomiya at the time.  Many students of the school are descended from the Hakka people, who originally lived in central and then southern China.   “The virtues of the Hakka are frugality, industriousness, and diligence are embodied in this statue.   It isn’t related to the identity of the person.”  This statue has conspicuously large ears, as well, and without the topknot of hair, it would look like a Buddha.

A small-scale version is on the Taoyuan County Ping Hsing Elementary School principal’s bookshelf.  It is a 40cm bronze piece made before the war, purely Japanese in style.  From time to time the previous principal, who knew of Ninomiya’s good works, found such statues in antique stores and donated them.  Since many of the school’s students are impoverished indigenous children, he used the statues to teach his students that “even if you are poor, if you work hard like Ninomiya-san, you will be rewarded.”

It’s unclear how many old and new Ninomiya statues there are in Taiwan.  During the war, bronze statues throughout the country were melted down for supplies, and afterward most of the stone versions were destroyed or changed into statues of Confucius or Chiang Kai-shek by the Kuomintang.   Antebellum antiques are especially rare.

So there is special joy in finding these statues.  Wherever I go, I ask the locals if they know of any.  A Japanese Ninomiya is fine, but the humorous Chinese-style figures are also captivating.   You can’t say they’re Japanese, but there’s also a pleasure in them that can’t be found in Japan.

長興小学校二宮金次郎 Changhsin Elementary Ninomiya Kinjirō


台北支局 源一秀


初めてお目にかかったのは、1年前だった。石像があるとのうわさの真偽を確かめるべく足を運んだ台北近郊の観光地、金瓜石の道教廟「勧済堂」の敷 地内。約1メートルの像は遠目に見ても明らかだった。読書をしながらまきを背負って歩く少年像。そう、一昔前なら小中学校の校庭の風景の一部だった二宮金 次郎像だ。


懐かしさに駆け寄るや、思わず吹き出してしまった。なぜって、貧しいはずの二宮少年が余りにもふっくら顔で、おまけに福耳ときていたから。現地の 日本語世代のお年寄りに由来をたずねた。像は1936年、廟の工事をした際、大陸から招いた石工に、台湾人父母らが「近所の(日台の)子どもたちの教育の ために」と作ってもらったものだという。



当時、贈った側にこれが二宮だと知る人はいなかったという。同小には中国大陸の中原を起源とする客家の子弟が多く通う。「客家の美徳である質素、 勤労、勤勉を見事に体現した彫像。誰なのかなんて関係はなかった」。ただ、この像も見事な福耳で、髪形はまげではなく仏像を思わせる。

小型のものでは、桃園県の平興小学校の校長室の書棚に、戦前のものと見られる約40センチの銅像がある。これは純日本風だ。二宮の偉業を知る元校 長が骨董屋でたまたま見つけて購入、寄付したもの。貧しい先住民子弟が多く通うため、「貧しくても二宮さんのように努力を重ねれば報われる」ことを生徒に 教える教材となっている。



(2011年1月28日  読売新聞)
Explore posts in the same categories: Art, Education, Japan, Taiwan, Translations

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