In May 2018 I seized an opportunity to ride the beautiful and dangerous Suhua Highway 蘇花公路 (中文) from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Su’ao 蘇澳 in Yilan 宜蘭. I had previously taken this same route on bicycle back in 2013—a harrowing trip I’ll never forget—so I was eager to drive a scooter and experience it at a different pace. I also visited a number of historic sites along the way, including several former Shinto shrines, as part of an ongoing project documenting various elements of the Japanese colonial legacy in Taiwan. Much of the highway itself also owes something to Japanese engineering, having opened to vehicular traffic in 1931, but it has been continuously repaired and expanded since then.
Agenna Shipyard 阿根納造船廠 is among the most popular abandoned places in northern Taiwan. It is located in the historic port city of Keelung 基隆 across the narrow Bachimen Channel 八尺門海峽 from Heping Island 和平島, site of the first Spanish settlement in Taiwan, and just around the corner from the equally photogenic Zhengbin Harbour 正濱漁港. The shipyard opened in 1967 but was only in business until the 1980s. After many years of neglect the skeletal ruins of the shipyard aroused renewed interest in 2016 when the current leaseholder attempted to demolish the structure. An immediate public outcry prompted the government to designate the shipyard a heritage property, and the cultural bureau is now formulating plans to develop the area into a tourist attraction of some kind. In the meantime, the crumbling ruins of the former shipyard attract hundreds or even thousands of daily visitors.
My second day on the road in Nantou County in October 2015 was completely unplanned. I left Puli 埔里 and headed deeper into the mountains simply to see what was there, not having done any advance research. From a glance at the map I had a rough idea where I’d be going—deeper into traditional Indigenous lands to the east of Puli Basin 埔里盆地. Ultimately I ended up visiting several settlements and two reservoirs in a few hours of riding around what is now known as the township of Ren’ai 仁愛.
Longteng Broken Bridge 龍騰斷橋 is a historic roadside attraction in the hills of Sanyi 三義 in Miaoli 苗栗, Taiwan. More formally known as Yutengping Broken Bridge 魚藤坪斷橋, it was originally constructed in 1907 during the Japanese colonial era, connecting Zhunan 竹南 and Taichung 台中 along what is now known as the Old Mountain Line 舊山線. The bridge collapsed during the devastating 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake but the ruins were never cleared away. Further damage was done in the 921 Earthquake in 1999. Several years later it was designated a historic site by the Miaoli County government and subsequently developed for tourism along with the former Shengxing Station 勝興車站.
Ershui 二水 is a rural township located in the southeastern corner of Changhua 彰化, bordering Yunlin 雲林 and Nantou 南投. Ershui Station 二水車站, constructed in 1935, is the primary point of transfer between the Main Line 縱貫線 of the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) and the Jiji Line 集集線, a tourist railway leading into the interior. Ershui, which literally means “two water”, is named after the Babao Canal 八堡圳, an extensive system of artificial waterways still responsible for irrigating much of the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 three centuries after it was devised. During the Japanese colonial era this small town prospered as a center of woodworking while farmers in the countryside cultivated bananas, grapes, guava, and tobacco, among other crops. Nowadays it is mainly known as a sleepy stopover on the way to parts beyond—but a closer look will reveal several points of interest for anyone curious about Taiwanese history, architecture, and vintage style.
Xiluo 西螺 is a small historic town on the south bank of the Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 in Yunlin 雲林. It emerged as an important center of trade in central Taiwan during the Qing dynasty era and continued to prosper into the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake ripped through north-central Taiwan, reducing much of Xiluo to rubble. Colonial authorities and the local gentry worked together to rebuild, taking the opportunity to completely remodel the main commercial thoroughfares with an intriguing blend of influences from Baroque Revival, Art Deco, and Modernist architecture. A short stroll down Yanping Old Street 延平老街 reveals that many of these unique shophouses and commercial buildings remain standing today.
Beigang Theater 北港劇場 in Beigang 北港, Yunlin 雲林, is among the finest and most well-preserved of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era theaters. Built in 1937 with investment from a local businessman by the name of Tsai Yu-Hu 蔡裕斛 (whose old house is also worth a look), this three storey theater featured a revolving stage, seating for 800 guests, and simple western-style facade with a trace of the Baroque Revival architecture popular at the time. It was not only a cinema—Taiwanese opera, glove puppet shows, musical concerts, wedding banquets, and other events were also held inside. The theater went out of business in 1988 and was converted for use as a department store and restaurant for some time thereafter. Nowadays it is apparently still in use as a pool hall and, inexplicably, a kidney dialysis center, but I saw no evidence of this when I visited in the summer of 2017.
Ershui Assembly Hall 二水公會堂 is located in Ershui 二水, a small town at the very southern edge of Changhua 彰化, on the border with both Yunlin 雲林 (to the south) and Nantou 南投 (to the east). It is one of approximately 70 assembly halls built all around Taiwan to accommodate large public gatherings during the Japanese colonial era. This particular example was built in 1930 and is one of three remaining in Changhua. The other two—in Changhua City 彰化市 and Lukang 鹿港—are both fully restored heritage properties open to the public, but the smaller Ershui Assembly Hall has been derelict for years, a consequence of a long-running legal dispute between the landlord and local government complicating preservation efforts.
South Yuanlin Station 南員林站 is an abandoned Japanese colonial era railway station located not far from the newly reopened Yuanlin Station 員林車站 in the heart of Yuanlin 員林, a mid-sized city in central Changhua 彰化. It opened in 1933 as a small stop on the now-derelict Yuanlin Line 員林線 of the Taiwan Sugar Railways 臺灣糖業鐵路, which ran due west across the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 for approximately 9 kilometers to the Xihu Sugar Factory 溪湖糖廠 in Xihu 溪湖. Apart from facilitating the transport of sugarcane and other cargo this old wooden station also provided passenger service until it was abolished sometime around 1976.
Fenyuan Town Hall 芬園庄役場 is another example of neglected Japanese colonial era architecture in Taiwan. Built in 1935, this modest building was the administrative center of the village of Fenyuan 芬園, located on the eastern edge of Changhua 彰化 back when it was part of Taichu Prefecture 臺中州. It survived the war and remained in use until 1994 when a newer town hall was built down the street. Art Deco flourishes and the rust-colored emblem over the entrance give Fenyuan’s old town hall a distinctive look. Nowadays it is derelict—but it seems likely that it will be restored and opened to the public some day.