Although Taiwanese trace their ethnic heritage to China, along with their language, religion and holidays, Yeh feels no such affinity for mainland China, which considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province that will one day be reunited with the People’s Republic.
The Japanese, she said, “pay very detailed attention to a lot of specific elements, like the sushi — it fits comfortably into your mouth. China, I don’t like it so much. Japan is friendlier toward us.”
Taiwan, an island of 23 million people, has taken such a fancy to its super-modern neighbor to the north that a walk down almost any Taipei street reveals Japanese lettering even though few people can read it. Ramen and sushi are as common as Chinese food. Taiwan’s fashionable pet dog this year: the tan and white Shiba Inu breed from Japan.
Taiwanese follow Japan partly as a symbol of perfection in Asian culture, from the exact size of a sushi cube to the over-emotive expressions of cartoon characters, scholars say. They find it more fitting than Western culture because of similarities in Asian taste.
Like Yeh, Taiwanese may also feel warmer toward Japan because relations with China are tense. The militarily more powerful Chinese government insists on eventual reunification with Taiwan, although opinion polls show that most Taiwanese object. Taiwan has been self-ruled since the 1940s and democratic since the 1980s.
Japan’s cultural appeal to Taiwan “is based in its cross-strait conflict with mainland China, its relatively positive, nostalgic view of Japan’s colonial period and a true admiration of Japan’s culture,” said Stephen Nagy, a political science professor at International Christian University in Tokyo.