Japan’s Beautiful Shinkansen

I have a bit of a problem when it comes to focusing on things. My mind is always in a million places at once. I am notorious for starting things and never finishing them… in addition to having a whole bunch of awesome ideas that I never end up acting on. Over a year ago I rode my first high-speed “bullet train” in Japan… and I never posted anything about it. As I started posting things from my most recent trip, I figured it was probably about time to go through some of my even older photos, and actually get them posted.

Japan’s shinkansen is beautiful, at least in my opinion. The front is is long, sleek, and aerodynamic… at least on the N700 Series, which is the one I took. The Nozomi (“super high speed”) service took 2 hours and 20 minutes to go from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Tokaido Line, a distance of nearly 300 miles. The train’s top speed is 186 miles per hour. Part of the beauty of the high speed system in Japan is that the shinkansen has dedicated tracks, and no grade crossings. The ride is rather scenic, but because the train never intersects with roads there occasionally periods where the train will run in tunnels completely underground. I was amused, because it felt like every time I started recording the view on my video camera, we went through tunnels.


At the beginning of the video is a little jingle… this is another awesome thing about the trains in Japan. Sometimes there are so many different train lines that converge at one point, and it is hard to know which train is which. All you really have to do is listen though. Trains of different lines have different jingles, which allows you to audibly distinguish between the trains. Though I do wonder sometimes how anyone who actually works on those trains and hears the jingles all day long doesn’t go postal. I certainly heard those jingles in my dreams!


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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Wartime Magazine Advertisements

I don’t want to be an ass in saying this comment, but really, I wonder how trains function in the United States. Commuter trains and subways, like the ones in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and other places across the country make sense to me. They are practical, and they don’t take too long. By the time I was twenty, I had been to the city a million times, all by train. We never drove. Driving took probably around the same time as the train, and you didn’t have to worry about parking, and tolls, and traffic. Taking the train is not too expensive, as well. It just makes sense. I can count the number of times I have gone to the city by car on one hand. And the first time was when I was twenty.

But how does Amtrak work? I’ve only been on Amtrak twice, going to Florida and back with my grandmother that has a minor phobia of planes. I’ve thought of taking the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, but that is only because I like trains, and I think it would be cool to ride what was once known as “The Water Level Route.” But other than having a phobia of planes, and being a railfan, why would I want to take Amtrak? Searching up prices, I can get a round trip flight to Orlando for July 4th for $193. That ride takes two and a half hours. Or, with Amtrak, I could ride for twenty-two hours, and pay a whopping $423. Why would anyone want to pay more than double for a trip that takes more than seven times as long? In Japan I took the bullet train to Kyoto, which in terms of time and price is very close to flying. Close enough to compete, anyways. But then that just goes back to the usual argument that the US wanted their Interstate System, while other countries, especially Japan, concentrated on rail.

That sort of demonstrates my mind-set when I think about trains. There are some times when I read about their history, that I am completely and utterly baffled by how important they once were. Rail was the way that products and people were transported. And during World War II, trains were an integral part of the war effort. The New York Central operated personnel trains, mail trains, equipment freight, and even hospital trains. An average of two million troops per month were transported over the NY Central system during WW2. I always love looking at old advertisements, so today I have a collection of old New York Central magazine advertisements from the war years. Each advertisement depicts a different scene or use for the wartime trains: from riding the 20th Century Limited, to troop trains, to the fully equipped surgery suite on an army hospital train.

It is interesting to note that part of the reason why we have the Interstate System today can be attributed to the war. President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate System, especially after experiencing the German autobahn while he served in World War II. He had also been associated with the Transcontinental Motor Convoy which drove from Washington DC to San Francisco, and took sixty-two days. That sort of puts it in perspective, how roads in between cities were back then. Today if you drove non-stop and managed to avoid traffic, you could drive that in two days. Sixty-two days, no wonder why people took the train!

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Heading off to Japan…

Hey everyone, just saying goodbye for a little while… I’ll be heading to Japan tomorrow morning for some rail adventures there. I’ll be riding my first shinkansen, or as they are more commonly known around here, bullet train. Supposedly the train that goes from Tokyo to Kyoto which I will be taking reaches speeds of 186 miles per hour… so that should be pretty interesting. Other things on the agenda are going to Wakayama prefecture to see a rather famous cat named Tama, who I have briefly mentioned before. I’m not sure how well this meeting will go. From my understanding, the general public can only see her through a sheet of glass. One of my Japanese coworkers attempted to arrange a “special meeting” with Tama for me, which didn’t turn out so well, since they said they didn’t really have anyone that could speak English with me. I did make a present for her though, which I’m not sure if I will be able to give to her.

This is Tama. She doesn’t seem to have any problems wearing hats and clothing…

Clearly I had to give her a new hat. A train conductor’s hat. And what better gift than to bring a train conductor’s hat from the USA? Okay, well, I tried. It is a pretty ghetto looking version of a Metro North conductor’s hat. Probably a little bit too tall, but about the right size around for a cat’s head. I took the pictures before I had finished painting the badge. I also took pictures of my cat wearing the hat, but his expression in the photo pretty much was, “I am going to kill you while you sleep tonight,” so I am not going to post it. I also managed to get a female tie, the ones the conductors wear, to complete the ensemble. (Thanks Gina!)

Clearly the best possible outcome would be getting a picture of Tama wearing that hat. Whether it will happen is another story. We’ll see though.

I don’t know if I will be able to blog while away (perhaps I will tweet), but when I get back I’ll be posting some of my rail adventure photos and stories. I don’t think you’ll miss me all that much, since I have a few posts already written that will post themselves over the week. I’ll be back on the 11th, so I’ll talk to you all then!

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