Anniversary of the Opening of the Shinkansen

1 October marks the anniversary of the opening of the first shinkansen (‘bullet train’) line, the Tokaido Shinkansen. The line opened in 1964, just a few days before the Tokyo ‘summer’ Olympics (which were held in October to avoid the heat of a Japanese summer). Since then the network has expanded across the country, and continues to grow. As well as introducing high speed rail to the world – a world which was, at the time, looking more to cars and planes as the way forward for transportation – it revolutionised ideas about safety, comfort and punctuality. Thanks to the shinkansen many other countries started to develop high speed railway lines and high speed trains continue to be a feature of many countries’ infrastructure plans in the 21st Century.

I have been conducting research about the shinkansen since about 2000, and on 1 October 2004, I was at Tokyo station for the celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary.

Soon after I boarded a shinkansen and, on board, wrote the Preface of my book, Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan.

Writing the Preface to my book Shinkansen

Since 2004, I have continued to research about the shinkansen, and have had a number of publications related to it, including ‘From polling station to political station? Politics and the shinkansen‘, ‘The Shinkansen’s Local Impact‘, and  ‘Contrasting Experiences of Growth and Decline in Regional Japan‘. There is also mention of the shinkansen in relation to contents tourism in my chapter ‘Contents Tourism in Plane Sight‘ – as I discussed the Hello Kitty Shinkansen.

The 500-series Hello Kitty Shinkansen alongside the 500 series in its original colours

I also include discussion of the shinkansen in my book Japan: The Basics, which includes the famous picture of the shinkansen passing Mount Fuji.

Related to this I have also done a number of posts about how to photograph the shinkansen.

While 1 October is the anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen, as mentioned above, the shinkansen network has expanded across the country, and there are now many different series of shinkansen (with some having been retired). One question I am sometimes asked is which is my favourite. It is very hard to answer that question. The original 0-series shinkansen is a class design, the 100-series was the first shinkansen that I rode, the 700-series wasn’t the prettiest of designs but I associate that one with when I was working on my book about the shinkansen and I went in the cab with the driver a few times so I have a special attachment to that one, the 500-series was clearly a great looking train, and then there is the E4-series, which may look a bit odd, but was great to photograph and ended up being a central part of my first novel Hijacking Japan and featured on the front cover. At some stage I should probably do some posts about the various series.

I have written a post about one of my favourite shinkansen journeys – I have taken so many trips that I couldn’t possibly remember most of them. I do remember a few interesting experiences; travelling on the old ‘Dr Yellow’ and its replacement, going in the cab with the driver, being amused by seeing people doing their make-up at their seat and then shocked when someone even got changed, the trouble it caused when I offered to swap seats with someone so that they could sit with their daughter (it was trouble as they spent a long time thanking me and then offering me snacks rather than letting me get back to listening to my music), meeting friends totally by chance on shinkansen, using simulators that drivers train on (although technically that doesn’t happen on a real shinkansen), and catching the wrong shinkansen which wasn’t stopping at the station that I wanted to get to (yes, even those who study the shinkansen can make basic errors). I suspect that I will say more about some of these experiences, and others, in future posts.

My research related to the shinkansen will continue, as, no doubt, will some photography and trips on the shinkansen when I have a chance to visit to Japan. The shinkansen may yet feature in future novels too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s