Hamasing: Kaohsiung's Historic Treasure
◎English translation: Wendy Wei Chang
Glorious history can be found in Gushan District's Hamasing. During the Japanese colonial era, Hamasing served as a hub for ocean cargo, harbor activity, and railways. It was also known as a land of opportunity for job-seeking immigrants. Behind the rise and development of Hamasing lies the depth of Kaohsiung's culture. Various architectural styles demonstrate its immigrant culture, with Sinbin Old Street preserving traditional Japanese architectural styles.
The scenery at Wharf 1, Gushan District is fascinating. Boats and sailboats dock at Wharf 1 while fishermen sell freshly caught seafood. In summer and spring, the sun shines so passionately it warms people in the blink of an eye. Flamboyant flame flowers bloom on Mount Shou. The blue sky envelops the port as tourists stroll through beautiful, seasonal scenes, arriving at stops such as Gushan Ferry Terminal. From there, they can take the ferry to Cijin on the other side of the harbor. This is the charming Hamasing familiar to tourists. However, Hamasing has more stories to tell. Sinbin Old Street, in particular, shows the glories of the city's past.
The ocean and the port paved the way for Kaohsiung's internationalization, bringing a diverse immigrant culture to the city. In the second half of the 19th century, North American and European businessmen traveled by sea to Takau (as Kaohsiung was then known) and traded in Hamasing. To facilitate trade, these businessmen supported the construction of the port. Yet of all countries, Japan has had the greatest influence on Hamasing, and a great many of the neighborhood's buildings date from the colonial period.
Hamasing is originally a tideland built on during Japanese rule. The old railway line is to the east, while the Taiwan Strait is to the west. Mount Shou –which some people call "monkey mountain" because of its macaque population –lies to the north, and the Port of Kaohsiung is to the South. The Japanese aimed to build a commercial port for the sole purpose of shipping, but they also constructed a fishing port. Kaohsiung then became a center of the fishery industry after advanced fishing equipment and techniques were introduced to the fishing port. Hamasing is located at the end of a railway line, and the name Hamasing derives from "Hamasen," which means "beach line" in Japanese. Local Taiwanese people adapted this toponym. During the Japanese colonial era, Hamasing included Kotobukicho, Shinhamacho, and Minatocho, etc. Nowadays, Hamasing covers southern Gushan District.
The different types of buildings in Gushan District included distribution centers, high-end restaurants, shipping companies, lumber stores, and hotels. Today, however, most of these old building are residential. Only two restaurants are still in business: Hifumitei Ryotei and Le Bon Marche. Tourists can enjoy these old buildings' distinctive interior designs while dining. A non-governmental organization, the Takao Renaissance Association, works to preserve old buildings and local culture. The association's office was converted from an old lumber factory. When in Sinbin Old Street, it is a good idea to visit the Takao Renaissance Association first, in order to learn about the history of Hamasing.
In Sinbin Old Street, one can always see couples shooting wedding photos, which shows how charming the buildings are. Mr. Chen Kun-yi, a tour guide at the Takao Renaissance Association, says the Distribution Store of Meiji Seika, which is around the corner from Sinbin Old Street, used to be a residential and commercial building. The building had two entrances: one for residents and one for customers. Another example of Sinbin's charms is the old Japanese inn Hontoukan Ryokan. It has wall-to-wall lattice windows on its second floor. Wooden shutters were installed to protect the windows during typhoons. The design is not only practical but also visually pleasant. The Sasaki Shop has a design that is simple and elegant with pebbledash walls. The pebbles were brought in from Mongolia! The well in front of the Lo Family House sparks the imagination of tourists, showing how people lived during olden times.
Hifumitei Ryotei reopened for business in August 2013. Owner Mr. Yao Ming-wei says the building is already 95 years old. Hifumitei Ryotei used to be a luxurious Japanese restaurant featuring geisha performances. Mr. Yao explains that the building was in good condition when he rented it, so it took just two to three months to renovate. To better display its beauty, he varnished the wooden beams and columns. From the interior design to the furniture, Mr. Yao has upheld the building's style. Most of the furniture is from Japan, and there are old history books in the restaurant for visitors to read. A wooden pillar as old as the building is tied to the roof. The Japanese believed the pillar was the guardian of the house, and it is now the restaurant's most popular attraction.
In the middle of the afternoon, sunlight showers the restaurant. Metal fences reflect on white curtains. The light and the shadows make the place extremely charming. Hifumitei Ryotei's elegant space and layout, as well as its history, attract many tourists from Japan and Hong Kong.
Today, visitors to Hamasing can trace its history by experiencing the city's present. Sinbin Old Street still shows the area's boisterous past. Each old building has gone through many changes and has a unique story to tell; each one is an historic treasure.