Mr. Yoichi Hatta 八田與一 技師
1886 - 1942
The Father of WuSanTou Reservoir and ChiaNan Irrigation Systems (烏山頭水庫及嘉南大圳 之父)
And a love story beyond race, nationality and life
Sotoyo and Yoichi Hatta
The Dam at work
I received a phone call from my friend in Chicago few months ago. He said that in this blog site I have let go a big fish, probably the biggest one so far. After some research, I concluded that my friend was correct. It was a very big one indeed.
There was no excuse on my part even though I was among many Taiwanese who were not totally aware of the story. Five years after the tragic death of Mr. Yoichi Hatta, Chiang Kai-Shek’s regime came to Taiwan and began to suppress much of the local culture and history, especially Taiwanese and Japanese. Thus the story of Yoichi Hatta was virtually buried until early 1980’s.
Like most Taiwanese, I heard of the O-Soaⁿ-Thâu Reservoir and Chia-Nan (Ka-Lâm) Tōa-Chùn (烏山頭水庫及嘉南大圳.) But I did not attempt to find out further or what actually had happened. As recent as May of 2009, pushed by the universities and some local non-for-profit organizations in both Taiwan and Japan, the endorsement campaign to bring the O-Soaⁿ-Thâu (Wushantou) Reservoir System into the World Heritage (烏山頭水庫水利系統登錄世界遺產) has begun.
For us, it’s never too late to find out more, and certainly now is the time to remember some of the most important “Taiwanese” that I have missed.
Mr. Hatta was a Japanese civil engineer, born in Kanazawa on Feb. 21, 1886. He received his schooling at Tokyo University. After his graduation in 1910, Hatta decided to seek a carrier in distant Taiwan, taking up a post within the Civil Engineering Department under the Viceroy Office of the Taiwan Prefecture.
Hatta eagerly tackled his work, traveling vigorously throughout Taiwan to appraise the land. Planning of the waterworks for Taipei city became his first major assignment, to be followed by an irrigation/drainage project in Taoyuan County. Implemented in 1916, the project established Hatta's reputation as a capable civil engineer. In anticipation of his expertise, Director-General Yamagata of the Civil Engineering Department then assigned Hatta to lead an irrigation project planned for Wusantou in Tainan County, a barren territory where even the tough sugarcanes refused to grow.
The ambitious enterprise was a brainchild of the young civil engineer himself, and was conceived with the objectives of water resource development and flood control within the Chia-Nan Plains -- a region previously troubled by droughts, floods and salt injury.
Launched in 1920, the project consisted of the construction of the Wusantou dam, a lock and 16,000 kilometers of waterway, the Chia-Nan Irrigation River. Yoichi Hatta himself migrated to Chia-Nan to oversee the project. Heavy machinery including 50-ton cranes and a German steam locomotive were mobilized in the construction of the 1,273 meter-long Wusantou Dam, the largest civil engineering project in Asia at the time. The locomotive which labored in the construction is proudly exhibited in a dam-side park. Along with the most advanced machinery of the time, traditional methods were also utilized including herds of water buffalos used to trample the surface into a firm foundation.
The project saw its completion in 1930, boosting the agricultural productivity of the region by an enormous margin. The waterways constructed channeled water to 150,000 hectares of farmland within the Chia-Nan Plains. The fertile spreads of farmland now seen within Tainan County are the direct fruits of this undertaking. The total project expense amounted to nearly one-half of an annual budget for the Taiwanese Viceroyship.
On may 5, 1942, Yoichi Hatta boarded a ship bound for the Philippines on assignment to evaluate the possibility of an irrigation project along with a party of Japanese scientists, economists, and industrial experts participating in the investigation of the newly occupied territory. The vessel, Taiyo-Maru encountered an American submarine -- SS210 Grenadier, and was sank off the Goto Islands on May 8th. Hatta was not among the survivors of the incident. His corpse was later miraculously recovered by a fisher boat operating off the coast of Yamaguchi.
Hatta's wife, Sotoyo received the tragic news in Wusanto, where she found refuge until the end of the war. On September 1, 1945, the very same day she reunited with her son who was evacuated in a different location during the war, Sotoyo drowned herself in a discharge channel which her husband toiled to build. The farewell note she left said, "I am following my beloved". It was two days before Japan signed the instrument of surrender and all Japanese were soon to be dismissed from Taiwan.
A grave overlooking the dam was made for the couple, one year after the death of the wife. It was set up by the beneficiaries of Hatta's grand undertaking -- the farmers of the Chia-nan region. In 1978, a memorial service was performed for Yoichi and Sotoyo, and a cenotaph was erected in Honren-Ji temple in Nagasaki, Japan.
A statue commemorating the commitment of Yoichi Hatta was erected adjacent to the dam on July 8, 1931. It was created with contributions gathered from the workers that engaged in the construction of the Chia-nan Irrigation River out of a sheer sense of respect for the young project leader. It depicted him in a very peculiar posture -- sitting down, fondling his hair with his right hand set on an uplifted knee. This was the style the engineer always took when he was sunk in deep thought. In the height of WWII, the statue mysteriously vanished when the State attempted its confiscation as a measure to purvey depriving metal. After the war, Kuomintang government took control of Taiwan. Showing affinity toward Japan and the Japanese were forbidden, deemed to be treasonous behavior. Buildings and monuments constructed under the rule of the Japanese were toppled down.
After the harsh reign of Chiang Kai-Shek, the statue reappeared in 1981 to the astonishment of the general public. It was carefully hidden in a warehouse within the region, and later within a lodging house of the Chia-nan Irrigation Association by its members despite the danger of material harm and even death. Ever since the restoration of the statue, memorial services are hosted by the Association on 8th of May each year, commemorating the anniversary of Yoichi's death.
The achievements of the civil engineer are not forgotten, passed down across the generations with unchanging feelings of gratitude. In recent years, the ceremony has become an opportunity for exchange among the Japanophiles of Taiwan, and the Japanese feeling affinity towards Taiwan.
On May 8th 2001, "Hatta Memorial Museum" was opened beside the waterway, introducing the vestiges of the Japanese civil engineer.
-- Source http://gomushi.at.infoseek.co.jp/eng/world/taiwan/001.html
- 70 years after the death of Yoichi Hatta the Post Office of Taiwan has issued a commemorative stamp along with the post card in his honor. (Updated May 11, 2012)
-- More about Yoichi Hatta (in Taiwanese/Chinese)
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