The Suicide Boats of Wangan Islet (在望安嶼的日軍神風自殺艇)

The now collapsed opening of one of the tunnels at Wangan Islet from which Japanese Shin'yō suicide boats used to be launched.

The other cave. With water dripping into a hollow at the base, it gives slightly more indication of a tunnel having once been here.

Most people have heard of Kamikaze pilots, but I’m embarrassed to admit I knew nothing of the Shin’yō suicide boats that Japan employed against Allied vessels during WWII.
So, scootering around Wangan Islet (望安嶼) just after dawn on Sunday, I was amazed to find the Yuanyang Cave (鴛鴦窟) area, the site of one of two Shin’yō facililties in the Penghu archipelago and several in Taiwan (the others were in Danshui, Keelung, somewhere in Pingtung and Zuoying in Kaohsiung County).
As you can see from the photos above, there is nothing much left of the caves now. Locals from Wangan and neighbouring Jiangchun (將軍) were conscripted to build the tunnels. After the war, the wood supporting the caves was pilfered – hardly surprising as decent lumber is in short supply on treeless Penghu1 – and the caves collapsed.
This being the case, there’s not an awful lot to see at the site now, though word is that the government intends to restore the site by next year. This will include reopening the tunnels, and making replicas of the Shin’yō boats. Life-sized statues of the personnel will also be made available for the swathes of tourists who want to “take pictures with models of Japanese soldiers,” a tourism official announced.
As the information boards at the site explain everything in pretty good detail, I’ll let them do the talking from here on in. Click ’em to enlarge.

Bacon was a crucial part of the Japanese Shin'yō operation

Maanshan Islet (馬鞍山) - the largest of the uninhabited rocks just off the coast of Wangan

Rails led from the tunnel mouths, presumably down toward the sea, and wheels were fitted to the one-man boats. It’s hard to picture precisely how it all must have worked but, these days, this is the stream that leads to the sea, so perhaps this is where the self-exploders embarked on their mission in earnest. Hopefully all will be revealed when the site is completely restored.
Wangan Islet is 40 minutes on a boat from Makung, the city on the main group of Penghu islands. It’s well worth a visit, as it has several decent beaches and a couple of good attractions. It’s small – less than 14 square kilometres – and with a scooter, which you can pick up from the harbour as soon as you disembark (NT$250 a day), you can whizz round exploring every nook and cranny and see everything within a couple of hours.
This was my second visit to Penghu and I really can’t speak highly enough of the place and, above all, the people, who are some of the friendliest and kindest I have ever met. I’ll be sticking some more posts up about some of the worthwile sights and other aspects of my trip in the near future.
For now, I leave you with this fellow, who was lumbering across the road to join his bovine ilk (pictured, right), just before the turning to the caves 2 I have never seen so many cows in one place in Taiwan. They’re all clustered on a hill overlooking the bay where the caves are, munching grass out of abandoned graves.
  1. I’m reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse at the moment, which deals in some detail with Pacific Islanders who stripped their environments of trees, so I wonder if this was always the case. It certainly seems to have been so as far back as 13th century Yuan Dynasty visits to the archipelago.
  2. The various signs for the site are rather confusing. The bay is basically called Yuanyang Cave but this is not in reference to the Japanese caves or, in fact, any cave at all. The character 窟 would probably be better translated as “cove” here. Signs on the main roads of the island refer to the Mandarin Duck’s Grotto and to the Yuanyang Cave. A rock marks the turning with the latter name on it. You can see a tentative explanation of the etymology of the name on the first of the photos of the information boards above. Anyway, if you’re not paying attention to the Chinese, it’s far from clear that that the grotto and the cave are one and the same. Nowhere do any of the signs give any indication of the former usage of the site. I headed down there expecting to see a cave with some ducks in it. The authorities are harping on about making this a serious attraction and it would be a good start to do away with the ambiguity and also to make it clear what is down there.

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