Dashing through Japan inside of a Shinkansen (新幹線)
Ever since my student days and the overrated examination and debate over the Meiji Restauration, I have noticed one peculiarity that became somewhat a trend in Japan, especially when achieving a national success or setting a nation-wide milestone: assiduous train construction. The first exhibition of that caliber came with the first rail line that connected Tokyo and Yokohama, symbolizing the strength of the people during the reformation that fought a plethora of hardships that came with profound changes on the political, social and economic plan. The same showcase of national pride birthed the famous Shinkansen, the series of bullet trains that are being constantly improved, ever since the “0 Series” type from the distant 1960s.
What makes the Shinkansen trains so special? Four things : speed, reliability, comfort and punctuality. Technological marvels that they are, these bullet train series are being treated by the Japanese people with awe and respect as if they are the celestial offspring, serving to connect most of the major cities. Shinkansen Tōkaidō line transports the biggest number of passengers, around 151 million annually and rising with every year passed. First Shinkansen bullet train had been designed by the chief engineer Hideo Shima and the one man who provided political backing was Shinji Sogō that was also the first president of the JNR (Japanese National Railways). However, more talented minds had been needed, so the remaining three important engineers had been drafted into the project from the Railway Technology Research Institute: Tadanao Miki, Tadashi Matsudaira and Hajime Kawanabe. All of these talented engineers that hailed from the Institute had been designing airplane models during the WWII. Today, the Shinkansen network is being constantly improved and expended with multiple train series traversing throughout Japan on a multitude of lines. The most notable in my opinion are:
- Tokaido Shinkansen: Noyomi, Hikari and Kodama.
- Sanyo Shinkansen: Nozomi, Sakura and Hikari.
- Kyushu Shinkansen: Mizuho, Sakura and Tsubame.
- Hokkaido Shinkansen: Hayabusa and Hayate.
What is my experience with these tech marvels on rails? Well, I have traveled with the famous Hikari N700 series and all I can say that my mind has been blown completely. The first thing that came to mind was the high ticket price, but that worry had been quickly extinguished since my pass was sponsored by the Institute I went to and the subsequent seating of my behind into the most comfortable seat I have ever seen. Inside of the lighting-fast Shinkansen, you can witness all the famous attributes that Japan can boast as a country and rightly so: utter cleanliness (really, I haven’t noticed a single speck of dust anywhere); commitment to order and proper pattern of every element; loyalty to simplicity yet complexity in its every aspect (simple, but pragmatic and pleasant design to be less cryptic and more precise). The most hilarious thing I noticed in the Shinkansen interior is the advertisement of all kinds: digital (New Dragon Quest!), simple posters and tons of pamphlets with adds for restaurants, travel agencies and hotels just to name a few. My first impression was that they intentionally want to make your journey less boring yet more informative and the funny thing is that this sentiment persists in my head to this day. The capacious windows of the Shinkansen’s cars offer you a chance to stare in wonder at (basically) three backgrounds: open countryside, suburbs and urban places (the latter two usually combine). There is always something to drink or eat here if you pay for the business class or some such that can make your trip truly unforgettable.
Later on, when I exited the Shinkansen in Nagasaki, I looked back in amazement what can a simple train line provide, but I was wrong: the Hikari was truly amazing: it is above a simple bullet train; it was above my expectations and the articles I read across the web before I arrived in Japan. Hikari was indeed fast as light in my eyes. I have experienced Japan in an comfortable and encased space during that Shinkansen ride, paradoxically though, I was completely quiescent at the speed of around 200 mph. It was really true: Dashing through Japan, in the Shinkansen bullet train, over Japan we go, laughing all the way….