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How The Shinkansen Bullet Train Made Tokyo What It Is Today

At 10am on 1 October 1964, with less than a week and a half to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the two inaugural Hikari Super Express Shinkansen, or “bullet trains,” arrived at their destinations, Tokyo and Osaka. They were precisely on time. Hundreds of people had waited overnight in each terminal to witness this historic event, which, like the Olympics, heralded not just Japan’s recovery from the destruction of the second world war, but the beginning of what would be Japan’s stratospheric rise as an economic superpower. The journey between Japan’s two biggest cities by train had previously taken close to seven hours. The Shinkansen had made the trip in four.The world’s first high-speed commercial train line, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, was built along the Tokaido, one of the five routes that connected the Japanese hinterland to Edo, the city that in the mid-1800s became Tokyo. Though train lines crisscrossed the country, they were inadequate to postwar Japan’s newborn ambitions. The term “shinkansen” literally means “new trunk line” symbolically, it lay at the very centre of the huge reconstruction effort. All previous railways were designed to serve regions. The purpose of the Tokaido Shinkansen, true to its name, was to bring people to the capital. After the war Tokyo was in ruins, but its rebuilding progressed without any master plan. As industries gravitated to the city, young people flocked to Tokyo to work; and as they started families they were encouraged to buy homes. The only land they could afford, however, was outside the already densely populated city. Property prices skyrocketed in the 1970s, and even more during the “bubble era” of the 1980s, forcing newer families even further from the city centre. Tokyo swelled to elephantine proportions. The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, composed of four prefectures, became the world’s pre-eminent megalopolis, some 35 million people by 2010, or 27% of Japan’s total population. It isn’t unusual for commuters to spend two hours getting to work every day on trains that exceed 150% of capacity.This “rush hour hell” has been made famous worldwide by images of station employees stuffing stragglers into packed train cars – potent symbols of the superhuman forbearance of the Japanese worker, but also the dogged efficiency of Japan’s railways. All foreign visitors to Japan invariably ride the trains and come away with the same impression: Japan’s public transportation is the cleanest, most courteous in the world, run by uniformed, be-gloved men and women who still epitomise a hallowed Japanese work ethic that most companies struggle to maintain in an economy that has remained sluggish for two decades. But the most vital aspect of this efficiency is that trains run on time, all the time. This is not just a point of pride. It is a necessity, given the huge number of people that have to be moved. Transfers are timed to the split second, and the slightest delay has the butterfly effect of delaying connections. The Shinkansen is no exception, as exemplified by the “angels”: teams of pink-attired women who descend on a train as soon as it arrives at its terminal and in five minutes leave it spotless for the return trip. The first Shinkansen skirted the Pacific coast through the huge industrial corridor that links the capital with Osaka. This is a nearly unbroken stretch of urbanisation: it has few parallels on the planet. By the early 1950s the conventional train that ran on this route was crammed. Taking a hint from the private Odakyu Electric Railway, which launched a train that could reach speeds of 145km/hr, Japan National Railways (JNR) decided to develop an even faster train, and in April 1959 construction of the Tokaido Shinkansen commenced with an initial budget of ¥200bn (£1.1bn), though the eventual cost would be double that.The high-speed network now reaches all the way west to the island of Kyushu and north to Akita, at the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. Next

Source: Niume | Posts


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Posted by: Kramer

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