Shinkansen: The Japanese Bullet Trains

Ever since I saw the 1974 classic movie “Murder on the Orient Express,” trains have held a certain mystic fascination for me. Riding the opulent Orient Express symbolized travelling in luxury, no doubt something like being on board the Titanic, only by land.  Aside from the morbid plot of the movie (not to mention the fate of the Titanic), the way the Orient Express and trains in general entered my life still makes trains the ideal way to take me places and at the same time allow my imagination to run wild.

A flashback in history

train1Wagonways were common in the mining industry in Europe since the 1500s. The first mechanized rail transport system came to life in England in the 1820s. Trains were a critical aspect of the industrial revolution and of the economic development of countries all around the world. In many parts of the world, trains remain the primary source of transportation today.  One of the best ways to travel around Europe is by train. Trains are a convenient, reliable, and comfortable way to get you from one country to the next, allowing you to enjoy scenic landscapes (and dream) along the way.  Steam engine trains have long evolved into bullet trains that travel maximum speeds of 320 kilometers per hour (close to 200 mph).

Shinkansen 500 series. | Kubotake

train2The Shinkansen (新幹線), or new trunk line, is a network of high-speed railway lines: an essential mode of transportation in Japan.  Japan was the first country to build high-speed railway lines. Hideo Shima, the first president of Japan National Railways (JNR), persuaded the Japanese government to back the plan. Other key people responsible for the technical development of the first Shinkansen were Tadanao Miki, Tadashi Matsudaira, and Hajime Kawanabe, based at the Railway Technology Research Institute (RTRI). The term “bullet train” is a literal translation of the Japanese term dangan ressha, a nickname for the initial 1930s project and because the first O Series Shinkansen moved extremely fast and looked like a bullet.

Shinkansen with Mt. Fuji in the background. | swollib

The Shinkansen is operated by four Japan Railways Group companies that began in 1964 with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. Initially, it ran 515.4 kilometers.  Its routes now currently encompass 2,388 kilometers of  lines with trains that run a maximum of 240 to 320 kilometers per hour. The Shinkansen network presently links most of Japan’s major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu with the Hokkaido links, well on their way to being completed in March 2016. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is still the world’s busiest rail line, carrying around 151 million passengers a year between Tokyo and Osaka. Thirteen trains consisting of 16 cars each, with a seating capacity of 1,323 people, run at 3-minute intervals between trains.  And check out Japan’s latest, super fast, cutting-edge train between Tokyo and Aomori, the E5 series Hayabusa, the Peregrine Falcon. What an amazing way to get around!


Shinkansen N700 interior. | Masakazu Matsumoto