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Taiwan's Parks, Originally Made by Japan, Have Something to Teach Japanese Today

Outfitted for intergenerational fitness, communication, and learning, Taiwan's parks today are flourishing and nurturing healthy communities around them.



The author with local residents after using the exercise equipment in 228 Peace Memorial Park. (© Robert D Eldridge)

Taiwan, like Japan, has a super-aging problem and serious population decline. But the older people are still very healthy and happy. Taiwan's parks may be one of the reasons for their health and happiness.

For those who like parks (is there anyone who doesn't?), the parks in Taiwan are first-rate. And I am not just talking about the nine national parks and one national natural park. 

The local parks are also outstanding. They are well-kept, clean, green, and well-used.

Historical Connection to Japan

Many of the parks, including the one I visit every day, were built during the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945). Shortly after the start of the Japanese administration, the Governor-General's Office made plans for the construction of public parks in the cities. (See Toshio Watanabe, translated by Robert D Eldridge, The Meiji Japanese Who Made Modern Taiwan, for details).

The first public park that opened was Maruyama Park, now known as Yuanshan Park, in 1897. A metro stop of the same name is located conveniently next to it.

Construction on the park I visit every day, known since 1998 as the 228 Peace Memorial Park, began in 1899. It opened in 1908 after the first stage of the project was completed. 

At the time it was called Taihoku New Park (Taihoku Shin Koen), after the old name for Taipei. It is located in front of the Presidential Office, which was then the Governor-General's Office.


The park is filled with history, literally. One of the buildings comprising the National Taiwan Museum, the main building, is located in the northern part of the park and is still used. Completed in 1915, it was known as the Taiwan Governor Museum. And, of course, the park is dedicated now to the martyrs of the February 28, 1947 incident and afterward, of political and other forms of suppression during the period of martial law. Taiwan was led at the time by the Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist Party originally from mainland China.

Adult exercise equipment in 228 Peace Memorial Park. (© Robert D Eldridge)

Playgrounds for Adults

But it is not just this history for which I visit the park. It is the exercise equipment. Local parks worldwide are generally known for their playgrounds for kids. Taiwan's parks have those, of course. But they also have, as one Japanese friend described to me after seeing my photos, "playground equipment for adults."

Yes, I thought, that is a good way to describe it. Especially as the people that I use the equipment with almost become like children again when exercising. At the minimum, they get younger before your very eyes when they show up. 

What I mean by this is that the people who gather there daily for their various exercise routines show up with smiles, greetings, hugs, and gifts, and clearly look forward to coming every day. You can see it in their expressions and body language. They literally appear younger the closer they get to the jungle gym.

The stainless steel 3.5-meter-tall jungle gym sits in the middle of the outdoor, matted area. In all, there are 12 pieces of equipment. They include a bench for sit-ups, an "air walker," a pendulum machine, a waist twister machine, parallel bars, chin-up bars, and a rowing machine, among others. All of them have bilingual (Chinese-English) explanations of how to use them and precautions one should take. 

The jungle gym area at 228 Peace Memorial Park. (© Robert D Eldridge)

The jungle gym is where everyone seems to gather, to stretch before their workout, talk, share stories of aches and pains, and post-workout stretching. (Most, but not all, of the people who gather at this time, between 6:30 AM and 8 AM, are between their late 50s and early 90s.) 

The Benefits of Health

I was not much of a stretcher before I started going to this park, but I have seen the benefits. More importantly, it gives me a chance to talk with everyone or at least say hello. Most of the people who come do not speak English, and I have yet to learn Chinese or local Taiwanese. 

Some of the older members, however, do remember Japanese phrases. And one of the younger people, a 76-year-old retired woman, was the daughter of a Japanese language teacher and thus speaks some Japanese. She serves as my "official" translator and teacher of Chinese and Taiwanese phrases.

One time I brought some gifts from Japan for the original members of the group: tea, grown naturally without any chemicals, and irimochi cakes, made by hand from local, organic ingredients from my daughter's adopted town of Niyodogawa Town in Kochi Prefecture. The next day, and for several days afterward, I was showered with reciprocated presents, including local Taiwanese tea, fruits, vegetables, and breakfast from one of the local stalls, you name it.

For the older people, many of whom may live alone, coming to the park each day is clearly an enjoyable experience. It is also doubly healthy, mentally and physically. These people are getting out of the house. They are walking and seeing the beautiful trees, flowers, squirrels, insects, etc, in the well-shaded park. It lifts their spirits as it raises their heartbeat.

A guide to Stone Foot Path in 228 Peace Memorial Park explains what results can be gained from which pressure points. (© Robert D Eldridge)
An elderly man walks in bare feet on Stone Foot Path in Peace Memorial Park. (© Robert D Eldridge)

Building a Resilient Community

The members (I have called them "my exercise gang") have their different exercise routines. Age does not stop them. Nor does age stop them from being interested in new things, including new exercises and stretches from each other and the younger ones. The exercise equipment at the park, in other words, allows for intergenerational communication and learning.

You might not think there is much to communicate when exercising. In fact, though, most of the dozen pieces of equipment can be used in a variety of ways to get a really good workout. And you can mix up the routine each day. There are probably at least a hundred different types of exercises possible with the equipment available. So, we watch and learn from each other.

An interesting feature is that our group (in all fairness, they were there long before me) has grown from about eight to now close to 20 people, without any coordination or advertising. 

The older people in the group most impress me. It is not how much you do but how often. In other words, their coming every day shows their commitment to their health and their community.

This gathering has an added benefit—it brings a sense of community which pays dividends in disasters. Disaster resiliency is often directly linked to the bonds that people have in a given community. By chance, the day I began writing this commentary, we had nearly 300 aftershocks following the April 3 eastern Taiwan earthquake. Some of the aftershocks were very strong, waking me up in the middle of the night. Of course, we spoke about it the next morning.

A convenient sign explains the use of equipment in 228 Peace Memorial Park in both English and Chinese. (© Robert D Eldridge)

Welcoming Venue for International Exchange

Another thing that I have enjoyed is the fact that every week or so, tourists will stop by on a walk and work out a little bit. Some of the equipment is not easy to use at first glance, so regulars are always watching to see if they need help. The group always welcomes them, with conversations forming about where the visitors are from. In this sense, the jungle gym is also becoming a place of international exchange for the older members.

At our park, I have met five Japanese tourists so far who were traveling on their own. All of them expressed the wish that Japanese parks would have such facilities. As they should.

Based on what I have seen so far in Taiwan after moving here in January, the merits of such adult exercise equipment in the parks are clear. Users' mental and physical health, which are interconnected, rise. In addition, new friendships are formed and international exchange opportunities increase. In this sense, the park is truly living up to its name.


Author: Robert D Eldridge, PhD
Dr Eldridge is a former political advisor to the US Marine Corps in Japan, and author and a 2024 Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Fellow at Tamkang University.