"With the start of the Shinkansen, we had a feeling that the starving time would end and Japan would change dramatically...."
It was 50 years ago today that Japan unveiled its first bullet train, the Shinkansen, which at the click of an ignition switch ushered in the era of modern high-speed rail and the position of Japan as a symbol of economic growth and innovation. Abigail Francis of SmartRail World finds out more... On October 1, 1964, just 9 days prior to the opening of the Tokyo Olympics and less than two decades on from the devastating impact of World War II on a defeated Japan, the Shinkansen (Ed- which in Japanese means, rather prosaically ‘new trunk line) was unveiled and showcased to the world.
Connecting two main urban cities, Tokyo and Osaka, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen’s super-sleek, streamlined design carried its first passengers at a high speed of 130 mph (209 km/h). The new line reduced travelling times for passengers from around 6 hours and 40 minutes to just 4 hours, which, at today’s speed of 170 mph (274 km/h), now only takes 2 hours 25 minutes. In 1975, the Sanyo Shinkansen became the first extension to the Tōkaidō line, transporting passengers to the island of Kyushu, shortly followed by the addition of Tohuku and Joetsu.
With costs estimated at 400 billion yen, in the decades recovering from the economic losses of war, the ambitious project and large budget faced opposition. However, following its unveiling, passengers and the world stood in awe. Fumihiro Araki, a former railway engineer, recalled the impact of the project in the Economic Times ; “With the start of the Shinkansen, we had a feeling that the starving time would end and Japan would change dramatically. The Shinkansen aimed to be the World’s fastest train; it gave people hope and made Japan look forward. It was nicknamed the 'super express of dreams' and actually gave Japanese people a dream."