Railway heritage in Japan and Southeast Asia

First steam train leaving Yokohama (1872)
First steam train leaving Yokohama / Japanese triptych print showing a train full of passengers with city, cliff, mountains, and ships sailing on sea in the background.

Mahen Bala is currently travelling across Java and Japan to study the relationship between people and the railways in Japan and Southeast Asia. Existing scholarly work on Southeast Asia consistently pins the introduction of railway systems as the starting point for industrialisation, and henceforth unprecedented economic growth within the colonial framework.

This project acknowledges the long established history of these systems, and intends to capture a contemporary snapshot of the railways and the people in Japan and Southeast Asia today. The project’s line of inquiry includes the following: How has the railway landscape changed since they were established more than a century ago, and how do people encounter and engage with railway heritage.

During the research period, he will be visiting railway museums, railway stations, and observing how people negotiate individual and communal space around railway lines. He hopes this project will contribute to a wider, more inclusive narrative of connected histories in Asia and Southeast Asia.

Area of research: Java (Indonesia), Japan.

This project is sponsored by the FY2019 Asia Center Fellowship Program.

A summary of the project can be downloaded here.