The Slow Ship Back to Taiwan: Mori Ushinosuke, a Man Who Cared About Taiwanese Aborigines

Mori Ushinosuke (1877-1926?), a thin eighteen year-old with the eyes of an adventurer, travelled to Keelung on a transport vessel loaded with Japanese army when Japan took over Taiwan in 1895.  Although he only studied for one year in senior high school and served as a translator in the Japanese army, he conducted research on Taiwanese aborigines because he had yearned for adventure since he was very young.  Taking the risk of his head being cut off by the aborigines, he never took weapons with him when he went into the mountains. He sincerely followed aboriginal customs and won the trust of the aborigines.  Mori became proficient in the languages of different tribes within a year, and even published five books about aboriginal languages. 

After five years, Mori served as the guide and translator for Torii Ryuzo for nine months.  Torii praised Mori as, “The best researcher on the aborigines.”  Afterwards, Mori was commissioned by the Regenerative and Products Bureau of the Japanese Governor General’s Office to collect and study plant samples while investigating the aborigines; there are more than twenty Taiwanese alpine plants named after Mori Ushinosuke.  The only thing Mori felt profound regret about towards his aboriginal friends was that he stole five skulls from the altar after investigating the assembly room of the Tsou tribe.  Driven by deep remorse, Mori wrote, “The Confession of Stealing Skulls,” to show his compunction eleven years later. 
After the Dahun Incident in 1915, the Governor-General Sakuma Samata adopted the policy of suppressing the aborigines.  Mori put forward the idea of “The Aboriginal Paradise,” an autonomous region for the aborigines, to bring about peace between the Japanese and the Taiwanese aborigines.  However, although he went around appealing for this ideal, his opinion was not taken into consideration.  Furthermore, the great fire caused by the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923 burned most of Mori’s research manuscripts.  Having been frustrated again and again, Mori Ushinosuke’s health began to fail as well.  He finally threw himself into the sea when he took a scheduled ferry travelling from Taiwan to Japan, and died at the age of 49. 
Picture taken by Mori Ushinosuke:The witch doctor at the left is curing the woman at the right.
(Source:Digital Archives Project of NTU on Anthropological Collections)
Kō Bunyū (2001). Taiwan was Built by the Japanese People. Taipei: Yi-Qiao Publishing.
Yang Nanjun, translation and annotation (2000). Walking among the Aborigines: Mori Ushinosuke’s Adventure in Taiwan (Original author: Mori Ushinosuke). Taipei: Yuan-Liou Publishing.