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Gems of Japan: Short History of Japan's bullet trains

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The Beginning of the Shinkansen

[Editor's Note: Gems of Japan is an ongoing article series by Lindo Korchi highlighting cool things, facts, and brief asides in Japan.]

Let's be honest. When most of us think about traveling Japan as a whole (from Tokyo to Kyoto and beyond), we aren't enthusiastic about the idea of taking night buses, flights or hitchhiking throughout our journey. What we really have in mind is riding on those fast, sleek, futuristic trains that we cannot pronounce, the Shinkansen (Shin-Ka-Sen), or bullet train as we're familiar with. To observe the landscape of Japan at a speed of over 250 kmh, or 155 mph. Now that's our image. And that was likely the vision that made way for the Shinkansen's development.

The Shinkansen was originally proposed in the 1940's to be used as a freight line between Tokyo and Shimonoseki (an hour north of Fukuoka). But that was a small vision. The Ministry of Railways had bigger plans to extend the line to Beijing, via an undersea tunnel through South Korea, and construct connections to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Take that in for a moment -- or several. That's huge. However, due to Japan's infamous role in WWII, the noted plans were eventually abandoned.

After the war, the idea of the high-speed rail was pursued and the development of the Shinkansen began to take place. In 1959, the construction of the Tokaido Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Osaka was under development. And shockingly enough, the construction of the Shinkansen cost nearly 400 billion JPY, or 3.4 billion US.



By 1964, the Tokaido Shinkansen was ready for public use. With a connected line between Tokyo and Osaka, the two biggest cities in Japan, the style of business and traffic demand quickly rose. Within three years (1967), the Shinkansen reached its 100 million passenger mark, and one billion mark in 1976 -- all within twelve years. The Tokaido Shinkansen instantly became a success.

The first Shinkansen train set was called the 0 series, which was built on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, connecting Tokyo to Osaka. It originally ran at a speed of 210 kmh, or 130 mph, and eventually increased through time. The series was also recognized for its "bullet nose" appearance. However, in 2008, the 0 series was discontinued. Now, one of the driving cars can be found in the National Railway Museum in York, England -- donated by JR West in 2001.

Today, there are many series trains. The most recent is the N700 series on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen, introduced in 2007 with a speed of 300 kmph, or 185 mph.

Due to the Tokaido Shinkansen's success, it's no surprise that another line was made, the Sanyo Shinkansen in 1975, which connects Osaka all the way to Fukuoka (South of Japan). Though, it didn't stop there. The Tohoku Shinkansen was launched in 1982, which connects Tokyo to Aomori (North of Japan, which is right below Hokkaido, Japan's northern island). With a route length of 674 km, or 419 miles, it is Japan's longest Shinkansen line. The Joetsu Shinkansen was also launched in 1982 and is a railway that connects Tokyo to Niigata (Northwest of Japan) via the Tohoku Shinkansen line.

The Shinkansen rose in popularity during its first launch and still continues to do so today. As proof for such, development of the Hokkaido Shinkansen has been in construction since 2005 and will connect Aomori and Hokkaido via the undersea Seikan Tunnel. The first section of Aomori to Hokodate (in Hokkaido), which is 4 hours south of Sapporo, is scheduled to open on March 26, 2016. As for Sapporo, that line is scheduled to open in 2030. There are also more in the works.



Interestingly enough, the Tokaido Shinkansen began operation in 1964, which made it in the nick of time for the first Tokyo Olympics. Now, I wonder, what will Japan have in store for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

[Credit for photos in this post: Yuya & Fletcher.]


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Lindo Korchi
Lindo KorchiContributor   gamer profile

Osu! I'm Lindo, a writer focused on philosophical thought, travel, & storytelling. I aim to look beyond the lens given to us by our culture, understand new perspectives, and create awesome storie... more + disclosures


 



Filed under... #feature #gems of japan #History #japan #Trains #travel

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