COLONIAL UTOPIA – Transportation Infrastructure

COLONIAL UTOPIA – Transportation Infrastructure
Hsinchu Train station before 1945 source:

It’s always interesting to see how Taiwan is so fond of its former 50-year colonizer, Japan. There are still many traits of Japanese colonization in modern day Taipei – in its culture, food, mentality, architecture etc. In this blogpost, we will look into Taiwan’s Japan-initiated transportation infrastructure and how its architecture still influences the Taiwanese to this day.

Earlier this year, Taiwanese officials commemorated the 130 year legacy of the first railway built by the Qing dynasty and the two Japanese colonial-era railway stations in Taiwan, Taichung and Beitou. (Ko, 2017)

The first railway built by the Qing dynasty in 1887 was a small railway that went from Keelung and Hsinchu as a way to transport sugarcane and coal. (Teng, 2017) Then came the Japanese occupation, and that’s where the real expansion of the first large scale public infrastructure project that connected the whole of the island begun. These Japan-built train stations have paved way to Taiwan’s modern day transportation system.

Japanese administrators started the plan to build a network for trains by buying out privately owned railroads and integrated them into the public system, as well as mixing coaches with freight cars to increase passengers. According to Tsai Lung Bao, a history professor at National Taipei University, “The Japanese saw railways as the ‘pioneers of civilization’ and the foundation of their colonial economy. They connect the island from north to south, west to east, improving lives and bringing development to the island.” (Ko, 2017)

Japan has always been credited with modernizing Taiwan and its rapid economic growth. The railway system has been one of the main forces that boosted taiwan’s economy. By transporting goods throughout the island, as well as workers and business for industrialization, the railway system transformed agriculture and encouraged urbanization as citizens can now travel long distances conveniently.

Taichung main station was built in 1905 and refurbished this year. (Ko, 2017)

Taichung train station in Japanese era
Showing the train station in 2017 source:


Beitou train station in Taipei was built in 1916. (Taipei Culture Foundation,2017) Beitou train station was originally dismantled in 1988 as the city wanted to build a new subway station, but local groups campaigned for decades to have it restored, so this spring it was reconstructed and reopened to its original location. The station is known to be “an impressive structure long identified with the city, the old station was constructed in the free-classic style of Japanese architect Kingo Tatsuno, whose other works includes Tokyo Station and the Bank of Japan”, according to Liou Shuenn-ren, a professor of architecture at National Cheng Kung University.(Ko,2017)

Beitou train station in 1916

Restored Beitou train station in 2017

Other Japanese colonial-era railway stations that continue to serve thousands of Taiwanese travelers daily are Hsinchu, Tainan and Kaohsiung. (Ko,2017)

Hsinchu train station in 2017
Hsinchu Train station in Japanese era
Kaohsiung Train Station in 2017

Kaohsiong Train Station in Japanese era
Tainan Station in 2017

To this day, you can still clearly see the similarities between the Taiwanese railways and the Japanese railways – from the structure and operation of the transportation system, to the signage and station design.

Signage in Japanese Railway Station source:
Signage in Taiwan Railway Station

Lee Shiao-feng, a professor of Taiwanese culture at National Taipei University of Education even credited the Japan-built railway system as the reason Taiwanese are now punctual. He says, “But perhaps the most consequential effect of the railways was the effect on how Taiwanese perceived time, as trains required synchronization and punctuality. To avoid missing your train and losing your job, working people became punctual, a virtue lacking before the Japanese came.” (Ko, 2017)



Ko, Shu Ling. “Taiwan looks back on 130-year railway legacy initiated by colonial ruler Japan.” The Japan Times. July 25, 2017.

Taipei Culture Foundation. “A Hundred-Year-Old Station Brings Back its Glory: Xinbeitou, an Outpost of History and Tourism.” Travel Tapei. July 19, 2017.

Teng, Pei Ju. “TRA celebrates 130 years of railway services in Taiwan.” The Taiwan Times. July 22, 2017.



2 Comments on “COLONIAL UTOPIA – Transportation Infrastructure

  1. I am intrigued by what you mentioned about how Taipei and Japan share similarities in different ways since it is interesting to look into the immediate and long-term impacts on a city by colonalization.

    Colonalization is a provacative process by which a system of power takes over another land to inhabit. Explicitly, it sounds like an action which may trigger the outrage of the colony and create resistance. However, Taiwan tended to accept the new Japanese cultures implemented among the city, while the modernization caused by Japan boosted the economy and social order in Taiwan. The railway system is a very good example.

    Moreover, colonization not only changed the explicit urban fabric, but also implicitly brought impacts to the locals. It is always easy to compare the punctuality of trains between Taiwan and other cities, revealing how colonization further changed people’s living style and mentality.

  2. Having been to Taiwan quite a few times, it is very interesting to look into the historical development of the rail infrastructure. The very first railway was treated as a transportation for goods rather then the people of the country, this reflected that the Taiwanese treated especially coal and sugarcane with great hierarchy which might had been the driven force for their economy at that time.
    Nowadays, the Taiwanese rail system is consummated, connecting the country throughout, reflecting the impacts of infrastructural urban planing to modernization and urbanization. Unlike other railway station in Hong Kong (eg, Hung Hom Railway Station) which usually expressed itself through structure and material in order to showcase its building technology; the Restored Beitou train station does the opposite, it remains the same style and appearance from 1937, consists of the wooden exterior and copper roof tiles, the round dormer windows are also kept, so that natural lighting and ventilation are provided.

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