Trains – Japan’s Doing It Right

JR_East_Shinkansen_lineup_at_Niigata_Depot_201210Today marks the 50th anniversary of Japan’s shinkansen (bullet train) system. If you haven’t read about it, I suggest this article at the Guardian; it’s a very interesting look at the history of the shinkansen in Japan.

Let’s be honest, I’m a city gal. But I don’t think I’d like living in Tokyo; it’s a huge city and pretty expensive. But the shinkansen makes it possible for me to visit Tokyo every weekend, if I so choose. For about $40 a train ticket, I can get there and back again in about 1.5 hours (not all of it by shinkansen, which is only about 40 minutes from Mishima). I’m from Arizona, a city that has basically no passenger trains — unless you count the one that stops at Tucson late at night, doesn’t stop in Phoenix, and keeps going to the west coast. Which I don’t. As a result, most my life has been spent using a car. Being able to ride trains to get places is still a nice novelty for me, and what’s more, Japan’s shinkansen are clean and comfortable, even if you don’t buy a first class ticket. And it’s punctual.

According to the Guardian:

The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, composed of four prefectures, became the world’s pre-eminent megalopolis – some 35 million people by 2010, or 27% of Japan’s total population. It isn’t unusual for commuters to spend two hours getting to work every day on trains that exceed 150% of capacity. […] Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital.

The article seems to suggest the bullet train is responsible for Tokyo’s megalopolis growth, however I say this is only partly true. Maybe Japan is just ahead of us all, or maybe because it’s a smaller island, it doesn’t have the space for suburb communities like America. Regardless, the American suburb as we know it may be a thing of the past. In the last few years, it’s been American cities that have grown, not the suburbs. As a result of increasing city populations, there is a need for public transportation.The only downside is the expense it will take to create a train system in cities which were initially built with automobile in mind (like Phoenix).

I say it would be worth it.

Yes, I know that America is bigger, and many of its cities have been built with the idea of automotive transportation, but I’d love to see an America connected by bullet trains — especially if they are as clean and comfortable as Japanese ones. I like train travel, I wouldn’t mind buying a ticket to major cities by rail (especially now that airline travel seems to be full of angry people, luggage fees, no food, and a lack of leg room). The shinkansen seats recline; I get a bento box beforehand to munch on. In America, it would be a comfortable way to travel. Take a good book, my laptop, get some work done on the commute, and then relax all weekend in Los Angeles or Chicago or New York or Seattle. Am I the only one who thinks like this?

Because everything must be cute in Japan, even the shinkansen has it’s own kawaii character.

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