Shinkasen (Japan’s Bullet Train)
The Japanese live by the train and play by the train, literally and figuratively. The highest real estate values are found near the railway station in any city, and entire mini-cities sprout near most stations. A train will take you nearly anywhere in the island- to the most remote cape or valley. For the Japanese, train travel is a life experience in itself in which the journey can be more important than the destination. Families will board the train to go on outings anywhere. Some will even charter a special train with tatami-mat carriages and go nowhere in particular!
When arriving in Japan, we learned how the train works, costs, and where it runs and, of course, the basic rules of international driving. When we vacationed in Tokyo recently, we conquered the subway system. Then, we briefly explored Hiroshima and rode the city’s street cars and had out first bullet train experience!! So I think it’s safe to say that we have taken Japan by every ground mode of transportation possible!
Shinkansen, commonly known as the bullet train, gets its nickname from its rounded nose, similar to the shape of a bullet. These Japanese trains are among the fastest in the world, capable of traveling up to 186mph!! The bullet train lines connect Japan from Aomori in the north to Kagoshima in the south.
Interesting Facts about Japan’s bullet trains:
- The bullet train is known for punctuality, often departing on the exact scheduled second. When the train ran 42 seconds late due to earthquakes and typhoons in 2004, the Japanese considered it disgraceful. In the 47 years since the train’s opening, passengers have taken over 7.1 billion trips on the train. The original bullet trains, the 0 Series, which stopped running in 2008, made enough trips to circle the Earth 30,000 times. The train’s five lines all center around Tokyo.
- The bullet train was invented by Japan’s chief railway engineer, Hideo Shima, and was financed by the Japanese government and the World Bank. Shima designed the trains to feel like an airplane. The bullet train launched on October 1, 1964, as part of an event for the Tokyo Olympics. The first line ran 320 miles, from Osaka to Tokyo. Over the years, the railway added new types of bullet trains, including the Series 100 in the 1970s. In 1992, the Series 300, made of aluminum, debuted. The 2007 N700 trains have speeds that are virtually impossible to beat, making the trip from Tokyo to Osaka in 2 hours and 25 minutes.
- The secret to the train’s speed is in the tracks. The trains run on even, straight tracks to prevent slowing down or stopping. The biggest cost in making the trains comes from construction of the elevated tracks and bridges needed to provide the right conditions for top speeds. The tracks run across 300 bridges and through 67 tunnels. In 1998, the new line built to cut travel time between Tokyo and Nagano cost $7 billion. It cut the previous track’s travel time from three hours to 79 minutes. The trains run on electricity, which eliminates the clacking noise heard on regular trains.
- Japan is located on an active seismic area and experiences frequent earthquakes. Though the earthquakes sometimes derail trains, there has never been a fatal accident on a bullet train. The train has a computer that can sense earthquakes and slows down the car. At top speeds, the train requires three minutes and 45 seconds to come to a complete stop.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!