Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One of those genius things about Japan: Japan's bullet train hits half century

Japan's bullet train hits half century

I've been in love with the shinkansen ever since my first visit to Japan way back in October 2003.  My friend and I bought the JR rail pass, the one you can only buy overseas, and rode the shinkansen all over the place.  It was his idea all the way and a brilliant one.  If you travel here, you have to buy one.  My brother and niece did the same when they came and it paid for itself with all the miles they put on it.

On that first trip, I had a wonderful time zipping along the countryside, taking in wide swaths of scenery while reclining in a comfy, padded seat.  We got to see pretty much everything there is to see along the Tokaido Line from Tokyo to Hiroshima and back.  Mountains and sea, flood plains, rivers, cities, fir and bamboo forests.  Small stations.  Large stations.  Forty-five minutes in Osaka.  These days I've taken the shinkansen here and there so many times I tend to feel complacent about the experience.  It takes an article like this to remind me of the comfort, safety record and efficiency of this amazing feat of engineering.

Now let me tell you one of my fondest shinkansen memories.  A few years ago I was on my way to Tokyo for a New Year's holiday excursion.  The car I rode in was crowded with people in a festive mood.  Families and friends journeying together either back to their hometowns or else to winter resorts.  Reunions with relatives or skiing and snowboarding.  Or maybe all of those things at once.  We all had on bulky jackets, most of us had red cheeks.  People smiled and laughed and talked quietly but cheerfully.  Mt. Fuji rose clear and beautiful on our left, and out came cameras and the voices rose a little more with excitement and getting such a fine view of a huge mountain that is nevertheless frequently clouded or fogged over and all but invisible at times.

The young man sitting next to me had brought along a few boxes of chocolate candy, which he shared with everyone sitting around him.  I was already feeling cheerful about traveling and having some time off and feeling the anticipation of strolling around Shibuya and Shinjuku still lit up with seasonal illuminations.  This guy's generosity to strangers turned a fun trip into something of a moveable party. 

I want to remember that moment.  I want you to think about it when you think about Japan.

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