Spirited away in Jiufen
JIUFEN’S most famous landmark, Amei Tea House. | PHOTOGRAPH BY PAULINE SONGCO FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE
During the Qing Dynasty, the small town of Jiufen was relatively isolated until it became a gold mining hub in 1893. But before the hustle and bustle of that, Jiufen was the center of the harvesting and processing of camphor in Taiwan. The mountain town in northeastern part of the island nation had 90 stoves that are grouped by 10 which, over time, evolved into nine processing sites catering to its nine original families. Jiufen translates to “nine sections” or “nine parts.”
Then came the Japanese during World War II. With the discovery of gold came the rush. Captured soldiers from a nearby POW camp were forced to work on the mining site. Jiufen quickly became the gold capital of Asia.
Jiufen’s glory days of gold flourished for the first five decades of the 20th century. Mining activities declined after the war, and the site was closed in 1971.
The town’s tourism industry flourished in the 1990s when the movie A City of Sadness was filmed on the location. Jiufen was also the setting for the commercial of popular canned-coffee brand Mr. Brown Coffee. Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki took inspiration from Jiufen for his Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away, from its hanging red lanterns, cliffs and narrow streets, to the Amei Tea House.
Amei Tea House was originally a blacksmith’s shop. Amei, the owner’s granddaughter, turned it into a teahouse. The leaves used for their teas are plucked by hand from renowned tea-producing mountains of Taiwan.
Jiufen is thriving with food stalls, souvenir stores, and pottery shops. The most popular among locals and visitors is the Ah Gan Yi Taro Balls, a shop that serves a generous ladle of taro ball dessert with sweetened beans or bean paste, red or green beans, grass jelly cubes, shaved iced, and ginger syrup.
In Jiufen is Jishan, also known as Dark Street, usually packed with people despite being gloomy throughout the day. Other streets to visit are Cingbian Road, Ciche Road and Jianci Road.
Jiufen is at New Taipei City, Taiwan.
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