Reflecting on 25 years of the Japanese Railway Society

When the Japanese Railway Society was established in 1991, I was still an undergraduate student at Sheffield University studying Japanese & Business. Somewhat coincidentally, I was just starting to try to formalise my studies about the Japanese railways, having put in a proposal to study some aspect of them for my final year dissertation. In 1992 I travelled to Japan for 8 weeks and, with the help of two JR Passes, travelled across all four main islands of Japan. Whilst I managed to make many observations, visits to bookshops left me concluding that I had to choose another topic as there were just not enough books about the Japanese railways, particularly the shinkansen where my main interests were starting to come together. In a time with no Internet, I had no idea about the JRS’s existence, where contacts may have helped me take the research forward, so upon returning to Sheffield I chose another topic.

 

After a year living in Japan working on the JET Programme, I returned to Sheffield to do a PhD. Again, I had considered doing research about the shinkansen, but remained concerned about getting materials and so kept away from the topic. But during my time back at Sheffield, I made some contacts at JR Tōkai, thanks to the staff that visited as part of a programme of Rod Smith’s. So, upon, completing my PhD, I knew that, even if books were still lacking, there would be a means of pursuing the research that I had been thinking about for the previous 9 years.

 

So it was in 2001 that I formally got started on my shinkansen research. By this time, we were in a much more Internet age and I did searches for ways to support my research. It was at this time that I discovered the JRS and became a member. I also came across the Jtrains mailing list on Yahoo, set up by another JRS member, Dave Fossett. Both of these groups helped me keep up to date with news about Japanese railways as well as helped me to foster some of my research by being aware of the sorts of things that others wanted to know and discover about the shinkansen. By this time interest in Japanese railways seemed to be really taking off – I returned from trips to Japan with numerous books each time. How different it was to the situation only 10 years before! My first study of the shinkansen, Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan, was published in 2005.

 

Whilst I continued to research aspects of the shinkansen for the next few years, it largely took a back seat whilst I conducted research about the 1985 JAL flight 123 crash. But I continued to be a member of the JRS, was membership secretary and wrote the occasional article for Bullet-In. At this time, I decided to set up a group on Facebook for the JRS. The idea was a means for members to interact with each other & get by some of the restrictions mailing lists have when it comes to photographs in particular. I also thought it would be a way to encourage others, not currently members of JRS, to engage with us and hopefully some of them would become JRS members also. The membership of the group has continued to mushroom (to around 1,700 by May 2016), and large numbers are from areas of the world where membership of JRS was low. Interest has also evolved into posts about Japanese trains used in other countries after they have been retired from service in Japan, as well as numerous posts about trips to Japan and updates on news relating to Japanese railways. With the number of visitors Japan increasing rapidly, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see even more join and want to show off their pictures and learn more about the railways.

 

As well as the group page on Facebook, we also have a JRS Page – whilst this is less interactive than the group, it is possible to link updates more easily to the JRS homepage. The number of likes has been steadily increasing also. It is great to see so many people connected by Japanese railways, but going forward, we will need to think about the role JRS plays in this and what the Page, group & Bullet-In are for and how they connect with each other.

 

Well done on 25 years JRS!

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