In the pretty, hot-spring resort of Peitou, north of Taipei, is a museum of what was once its most famous bathhouse, with a photograph of a visit by Emperor Hirohito, then prince, who took the waters there in 1923. A plaque marks the event. Across the road is a one-storey wooden house that has for the past 100 years offered the public a place to soak in the scorching sulfurous waters. Inside and out, the scene is like Tokyo or Nagasaki - the small plastic bowls and towels, the wall separating the men from the women and the languorous enjoyment of the baths. 'Without the contribution of Japanese, Peitou would not have the hot-spring industry it has today,' said Lin Hsiao-shi, 64, lying in the steaming water. 'They did much for Taiwan. My brother is eight years older than me. When he married, he insisted that his wife speak Japanese and they still use it today, preferring it to Mandarin.' What did he think of the mass protests that begin this Saturday aimed at ousting President Chen Shui-bian? 'These protesters are just nonsense,' Mr Lin said. 'They are consorting with China. We want nothing to do with communism and China. We want an independent state.' Mr Lin reflects an opinion that is strong but not dominant within Mr Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a view intimately linked with a version of history which sees Japan as a benevolent ruler of a poor, backward island and rulers from the mainland as corrupt, feudal and brutal. This view of history permeates DPP policy, including its reluctance to allow direct trade, shipping and air links with the mainland, despite intense pressure from the powerful business community. Taiwan cherishes its Japanese heritage, like no other part of the former empire. Many of Taipei's public buildings were constructed during the Japanese era, including the Presidential Palace, formerly the seat of the Japanese governor, which faces Tokyo, the main post office, provincial museum and prime minister's office. It would be unimaginable to find a photograph remembering a visit by the wartime emperor in any other country that Japan occupied. Just as thousands of people of Mr Lin's generation speak Japanese, many of their grandchildren learn it in order to study in Japan, work for Japanese firms or out of interest in Japanese popular culture. Former president Lee Teng-hui is the most dramatic example of this. Speaking accentless Japanese, which he prefers to Putonghua, he watches the Japan's government-run TV network, NHK, by satellite at home and is proud of his friendship with Japanese politicians, scholars and businessmen. When Japan's top-ranked sumo, Asahoryu, entered a reception in Taipei last month to start a tournament with 41 other wrestlers, he was mobbed by eager fans who follow the sport on TV, even though there is no sumo at home. Japan is the biggest single source of tourism for Taiwan, with 1.12 million visitors last year, a third of the island's total of 3.37 million. A group of 700 from a Japanese health food firm rewarding its top salespeople, visiting Taiwan for six days last week, spent an average of NT$65,000 (HK$15,400) each. On Monday, a Japanese visitor got out of a taxi in Taichung, the main city in the centre of the island, leaving his wallet containing NT$400,000 in Japanese, US and Taiwan currency. To his great good fortune, the cabbie was a model citizen who handed the money to the police - and received a NT$20,000 tip from the grateful visitor. About 1.2 million Taiwanese visited Japan last year and Japan is Taiwan's second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade in the first seven months of this year worth US$36.4 billion. The repository of this historical memory is a museum in a park across the road from the Presidential Palace that commemorates the February 28, 1947, massacre in which mainland troops under Chiang Kai-shek killed between 18,000 and 28,000 Taiwanese in several weeks after an uprising against nationalist rule. They included most of the island's intellectual, social and political elite, trained during the Japanese period - the people who could pose a threat to Chiang's control of the island, which he was by then considering as a refuge if he lost the mainland. 'The Japanese had laws and standards which they kept to, but Chinese do not,' said Lin Shi, 77, who shows visitors around the museum. 'They are corrupt and change laws at will. Under colonial rule, Taiwan had the highest standard of living in Asia, after Japan. Look at the railways, power stations, education, agriculture and public health. After 50 years, we were approaching the level of Japanese and suddenly it stopped [in 1945].' Mr Lin spoke in Japanese, which he also prefers to Putonghua, the language Chiang brought from the mainland in 1945. He strongly supported the plan approved by the government this week to drop Chiang's name from the island's main airport, renaming it Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. 'We should change all the roads named after Chiang and the names of the banks called 'China'. It will take time and money, but we have to do it. This is not China, this is Taiwan. Foreigners are confused - they think this is China. It is not,' he said. One prominent supporter of Japan is Hsu Wen-long, president of Chi Mei, a major industrial conglomerate with interests in food, electronics and plastics. 'If we look back at Taiwanese history, I would select the period of Japanese rule as the one in which the government made the biggest contribution to the ordinary people, followed by the period of Dutch rule [1624-1662],' he wrote in a paper published at the end of 2003. He rates the periods under rulers from the mainland, including Chiang, in third place. 'The Japanese colonial government made enormous contributions in public health, building roads, railways, ports, dams and power systems and developing our agriculture, especially rice and sugar, introducing new strains and technology. 'By 1943, 71 per cent of Taiwanese children were in school, one of the highest levels in the world. Britain and Spain never did anything like this in their colonies. Just before the end of the second world war, Taiwan had a per capita gross domestic product of US$90, just behind Japan with US$100, while that of the mainland was below US$30.' He said that the reforms Japan made were the basis for Taiwan's success in the post-war period. He picked out for special praise Shinpei Goto (1857-1929), a German-trained doctor, who became civilian governor of Taiwan in 1898, the post directly under the governor-general. After carrying out a detailed survey of the land and the population, Goto cleared Taiwan's semi-tropical jungles to plant sugar cane for export, an industry that remains the backbone of the agricultural economy a century later. He built wide roads to facilitate the transport and distribution of materials and goods. Under these, he laid water supply lines and sewerage - better than those in Japan - to prevent the spread of malaria, typhus and other infectious diseases rampant in Taiwan at that time. He built a railway from Keelung in the north to Kaohsiung in the south, connecting the island's two major ports. In 1899, he established the Bank of Taiwan, which played an important role in raising capital for industry and introducing Japanese corporate investment into the island. By 1905, only 10 years after the takeover, it had become financially independent and no longer needed a special subsidy from Tokyo. 'During the colonial period, the Japanese respected the old customs and traditions of Taiwan,' Mr Hsu wrote. 'But not so the nationalists who brought with them a petty-minded, narrow nationalism that destroyed that which the Japanese left behind. 'The Japanese have a strong belief in obeying the law and not allowing a black market. Taiwanese and Japanese had equal access to public hospitals. But the nationalist elite reserved the best hospitals for themselves and their supporters.' When the 600,000 Japanese left Taiwan after the end of the second world war, the nationalist government and party took over most of the assets they left behind, to the disgust of Taiwanese people who believed that they were the rightful owners. The question of nationalist party assets is still a hot political issue 61 years later. Last month party chairman Ma Ying-jeou said it had divested itself of most of the assets, with NT$27.7 billion left, down from a peak of NT$91.8 billion in 1998. But the DPP disagrees and on Monday handed the government a petition with 100,000 signatures asking for a referendum on the return of state assets which it had obtained illegally.