Lucky Photography – Dr Yellow


I’ve now done a few posts where I have referred to ‘lucky photography‘ – those times when I was primarily doing something else and just happened to be in the right place at the right time to get at least one interesting photo. That’s not the only type of lucky photography, there can also be times when you’re just not aware that a particular shot is possible and happen to spot it by chance, but that will be a discussion for another post. This time it’s the former type.

I formally started my research about the shinkansen in 2000, and in early 2001 I did my first fieldwork trip to Japan related to the research. I spent a few days with JR Central and it included a very memorable trip on Dr Yellow. Dr Yellow, as Wikipedia summarizes, is the nickname for the high-speed test trains that are used on the shinkansen lines. The trains have special equipment on board to monitor the condition of the track and overhead wire, including special instrumented bogies and observation blisters. Dr Yellow is, in essence, the JR Central and JR West equivalent of of East-i, noted as a lucky photo in my post about photography at Takasaki.

On that first fieldwork trip about the shinkansen, I travelled on the T2 set, based on a 0 series shinkansen (the original design of shinkansen) – but that’s something to discuss in another post. I believe that I was one of the last guests to ever travel on the train as it was retired that year. In the following year I became one of the first guests to travel on T4, based on the newer 700 series shinkansen design. I discuss the train in more detail in my book Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan, and a photo taken during my visit also features in the book. But when you are travelling on a train, it’s hard to get a good picture of them. Also, both trips were done in the evening, so it was dark.

But, on another trip to Japan, I got lucky. I was in Kitakyushu (one of the exchange universities for the Japanese programmes at Cardiff University, where I was working at the time), waiting to take a shinkansen from Kokura. At that moment I heard an announcement about an approaching train. I knew no passenger service was expected, so checked the departure board and noticed the unusual service number – it started with a 9, indicating that it was a non-regular service. Although I knew there were other possibilities (such as a test train – I once saw the WIN350 test shinkansen at Kyoto station by chance, but had no camera on me as it was in the days prior to having cameras on phones… or even mobile phones, come to that – I would later get a picture of the train when it was located at the Maibara testing facility and that picture is also in my book on the shinkansen), I also knew that the chances that Dr Yellow was about to arrive were high, so I got my camera ready.

It was not long before Dr Yellow arrived, much to the puzzlement of one Japanese man near me who commented (to himself, but out loud) that he’d never seen a yellow train before. I resisted the temptation to tell him that I’d been on it and explain what its purpose was. Besides, I was busy making the most of my good luck and getting the following photos, two of which also made it into the book…

Since then (26 April 2003), I think I’ve only spotted Dr Yellow in sidings and flashing past me when I was another service. I certainly don’t have any pictures taken since I got a better camera. Who knows, maybe I will get lucky again one day.

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