Tobacco Cultural Community

Fenglin Township was one of the three villages in Hualien County that saw a large number of Japanese immigrants during Japan’s colonial rule of Taiwan from 1895-1945. It currently has a population of approximately 14,000, of which at least 9,000 are Hakka people, mostly farmers. Around the 1940s, the Japanese government encouraged the people to grow tobacco in huge quantities in response to demand. After the end of the Second World War, the local hardworking Hakkas continued to plant tobacco leaves in large quantities to improve their livelihoods.

Tobacco Cultural Community

(Photo: 鳳林文史 Facebook page)

The 1960s was the peak period for the construction and development of Taiwan's tobacco barns, and tobacco leaves became the main crop for the farmers. In its most prosperous period, the planting area was as high as 2,000 hectares. It can be seen that tobacco leaves have an inseparable relationship with the people of Fenglin Town. The tobacco barn was a necessary facility that was born in response to the development of tobacco leaves at that time. The tobacco buildings in Fenglin’s Hakka village were once a symbol of the source of economy and wealth in the area. Although the tobacco industry has gradually declined with government policies and market changes, the tobacco barns located next to the tobacco fields have become an important landscape in the town.

Back in the old days, the tobacco barns were important for producing tobacco. People would bring tobacco leaves from the fields and hang the leaves inside the building, stringing them with iron wires. They would then carefully seal all the gaps in the building, and control the fire; otherwise it will blacken the tobacco leaves.

There are two main types of tobacco barns, Hiroshima-style and Osaka-style. The biggest difference between the two types of tobacco buildings is the location of the windows. The Hiroshima-style has windows that open directly on the sloping roof, and the Osaka-style has windows that protrude from the roof. A space similar to a small attic has functions such as ventilation and heat dissipation, but it can be easily destroyed in a typhoon. The Osaka-style tobacco buildings are common in Fenglin. At present, there are still more than 50-year-old Japanese-style houses and dozens of tobacco barns. It is the place in Taiwan with the highest density and best preserved tobacco barns, and it is also a testimony to the development of the tobacco industry in the past.

Two main types of tobacco barns

The Tobacco Cultural Community is one of the unique attractions of Hualien’s Fenglin. After it met the conditions of slow food and slow living, it was certified by the Cittaslow International as a slow town in 2014. It also has most intact group of tobacco barns in the country. The exterior design is a mixture of Eastern and Western styles and looks like they come from a fairy-tale world. Every July on the lunar calendar is known as Ghost Month in Taiwan and the "Hundred Ghosts Night Walk (百鬼夜行)" event is held in Fenglin. It invites people to use their creativity to dress up as all kinds of monsters or ghosts and parade around the streets. This is an activity initiated by the local residents of Fenglin in order to revitalize the local area and stimulate creative ideas for cultural preservation and development. The activities focus on showcasing Fenglin’s history, and letting visitors experience its culture, humanities, arts and industries in this traditional and historically valuable village.