South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Nozomi Shinkansen
Date: June 14, 1995 21:06

14:38 Nozomi Shinkansen; Hiroshima-->Tokyo-Japan :: 14 JUN 95

Have you ever moved over the earth at 300 kph? Without leaving the ground? Japan's Nozomi Shinkansen, Super Bullet trains, reach top speed at about 300kph.

I've alwasy considered train travel to be 'AK-47 sight-seeing' Little bullets of information, scenic views, faces, situations; cultural tracers: all zip past the window, rapid-fire. Capture them in a moment, for they are gone and another's already blazing by. It's interesting trying to construct a composite image from pointillist bullets. On a Nozomi, those bullets strike faster than you can think so the dots in the image become larger, more vague.

The unevenness of the Japanese countryside (81% of the land surface too steep and unstable to build on) means that in order to keep the track strait and flat there are going to be lots of tunnels. For example, the Shinkansen line runs underneath the mountains behind the port of Kobe. The only opening to the city along the tunnel is Shin-Kobe Station. The Nozomi trains don't stop there, only the regular Shinkansen (slower at a max speed of 250kph). If you were planning on getting a glimpse of the earthquake damage from the train, you'll have to take the much slower regular Japan Rail and private lines.

When not underground, the image bullets ack-ack-acking through your consciousness reveal terra-cotta rooves and stucco walls stretching out under a net of powerlines. The Japanese appear not to 'see' the black or yellow cables strung between reinforced concrete poles or slung over the tall steel-frame towers. This surprises me, given the cultural attention to architectural detail and finish, to the aesthetics of design, particularly in older structures built before the economic realities of population, space and income dictated a general movement toward efficient implementation. But then too they seem undistracted by all the visual noise in their advertising, much of it due simply to the detailed nature of the character set.

In more rural areas the high-tension towers run the ridgelines of the surrounding mountains. Below, the dwellings and powerlines give way a little to rice paddies.

When passing through urban areas more concrete apartments rise above the terra-cotta into the low wire net. Smoke-stacks and their spew pop up amidst flat grey and beige buildings of steel and concrete that bulge with pipes and tanks.

Japanese rail ain't at all like Thai or Malaysian trains which are slower than cars, even buses, and which seem to traverse the front doorsteps of village dwellings. On the Shinkansen, and even the local commuter rails, the distance between faces is too great to discern features, or even whether the expression is happy or glum. It doesn't matter much, the bullet is so quick there's no possibility for that momentary eye contact, the fleeting contact of individuals that you often experience on the slow trains that causes you to wonder as the face recedes in the distance what the life of the owner is like.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

Ever since these events, there has been speculation as to whether it was necessary to drop the bomb, whether a demonstration of its capabilities would have prompted the Japanese to surrender and whether a warning should have been given. Whether the Japanese would have resorted to using atomic weapons if they had invented them first has raised less speculation.
  graphical element Tony Wheeler
Japan: Travel Survival Kit
Lonely Planet Publications