The Four-Faced Buddha of Yongkang Street 永康街四面佛

The Four-Faced Buddha of Yongkang Street 永康街四面佛 is one of the smallest shrines I have ever seen in Taiwan 台灣. It occupies a tiny alcove next to an underground parking garage on Xinyi Road 信義路 east of Dongmen Station 東門站 Exit 5 and the original Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豊. From what I gather this shrine is the work of a local papaya milk vendor by the name of Mr. Lin. Despite its diminutive size—half a square meter according to some reports—the cost of rent is in excess of 10,000 NT per month!

The deity revered at this shrine is more commonly known to English speakers as Phra Phrom, a Thai representation of the Hindu god of creation, Brahma. Phra Phrom’s most famous place of worship is the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, the location of a deadly bombing in 2015 that made international headlines. You might note that technically this god isn’t a buddha—but religion in Taiwan is highly syncretic and nobody cares much for rules and boundaries.

A placard next to the shrine provides instructions for worship in Chinese, English, and Japanese. As recently as last year these instructions were only available in Chinese. The general idea is to make an offering of incense or flowers and pray to one of the faces of the statue for career success and fame; marriage and romantic relationships; wealth; or good health and peace. I suppose you could also make a donation and leave a wish on the column immediately outside the shrine—but I don’t personally follow any of these practices so I have no idea what the procedure might be.

In my research I encountered two weird news stories about this shrine. The first involves a middle-aged man who vandalized the shrine late one night for unknown reasons. I can’t be sure of the translation but it suggests that he was sniffing glue? Stranger still is the tale of a pangolin abandoned at the shrine and later transferred to the Taipei Zoo. Apparently this might have something to do with the use of such animals in Chinese medicine.

I suppose what interests me the most about this shrine is its economy of space, its unorthodox use of such a minuscule fragment of the urban landscape. It never ceases to amaze me what Taiwanese people can do in such crowded conditions. If nothing else, the Four-Faced Buddha of Yongkang Street shows how one man with a dream can transform a tiny corner of the nation’s capital into something out of the ordinary.