Tokaido Shinkansen turns 50 years old

Tokaido Shinkansen turns 50 years old :Everyone in Japan is familiar with this opening line of “Tetsudo Shoka” (Songs of railways): “With the sound of a whistle at Shinbashi …”

Poet Shuntaro Tanikawa came up with a revised version, called “Shin Tetsudo Shoka” (New songs of railways), before the Tokaido Shinkansen Line service went into operation in 1964. A parody of the original version, Tanikawa’s version is filled with mordant humor, making fun of this new Tokyo-Osaka train service that was dubbed the “superexpress service of dreams.”

It starts: “With no whistle/ Our express train departs from Tokyo/ With its travel companion of 80 billion yen spilling from the budget mountain.” It was reported at the time that the cost of building the Tokaido Shinkansen exceeded the projected budget by a whopping 80 billion yen ($727 million).

The second stanza goes: “The peak of Mount Fuji that lies far ahead/ Is already behind us/ The holiday we’ve been so impatient to go on/ Passes at a speed of 200-plus kilometers per hour.”

The original Tokaido “Tetsudo Shoka” consists of 66 stanzas, each serving as a brief lesson in the geography and history of the locales between Shinbashi in Tokyo and Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture. In contrast, Tanikawa’s version has only three short stanzas. This is obviously meant as a dig on the train’s ultra-high speed that gets passengers to their destination in record time.

Oct. 1 marks the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the Tokaido Shinkansen service. It is said that 5.6 billion people have used the service in the past half century. Before that, it took six-and-a-half hours to travel between Tokyo and Osaka. The meaning of “time is money” acquired an entirely new dimension with the astronomical cumulative savings in time that were made possible by the Shinkansen.

When the public was invited to send in their suggestions for the Shinkansen’s nickname, “Hikari” (Light) got the most votes. The nickname “Kodama” (Echo) ranked 10th. Although it was also the name by which the old Tokaido Line express service was known, this, too, was adopted because “Light” and “Echo” made a good combination. And 22 years ago, they were joined by “Nozomi” (Hope) that runs at 270 kph.

Bullet trains have helped seal tens of thousands of business deals, enabled long-distance lovers to get together and safely delivered children traveling to their eagerly-waiting grandparents’ homes.

While I am forever thankful for the Shinkansen, my wish is that the operators would continue to put safe and stable service ahead of any unnecessary increase in speed. Safety, after all, is more precious than time.

Tokaido Shinkansen turns 50 years old


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