Japan Looks To Faster Future As Bullet Train Turns 50

Japan's bullet train turns 50 Wednesday. Here's a look at how it's changed over half a century — and the changes it's inspired globally.

Japan Looks To Faster Future As Bullet Train Turns 50
Doug Bowman / CC BY 2.0

Japan's bullet train — which has become one of the country's most recognizable symbols — turned 50 Wednesday, and now the country is looking to get its trains going even faster.

The occasion was marked by a ceremony at Tokyo Station, where the current train left from the same platform its predecessor departed from on its maiden voyage in 1964. (Video via NHK World

Now the company that made the bullet train — Central Japan Railway Company — is looking to build an even faster train, using magnetic levitation to reach projected speeds of more than 300 mph. (Video via NDTV)

That new train would initially run along the same route the bullet train — or Shinkansen — started out on in 1964, when it cut down the journey between Tokyo and Osaka from six hours to four and was seen as a technical marvel. (Video via Fuji News Network)

FUMIHIRO ARAKI VIA BBC: "I had never experienced traveling at over 200 kilometers per hour, but it was like flying in the sky. It was that kind of feeling. It felt like you were sailing above the sea."

As a writer for The Guardian notes, Shinkansen's launch "heralded not just Japan’s recovery from the destruction of the second world war, but the beginning of what would be Japan’s stratospheric rise as an economic superpower."

Now, as the Japanese economy tries to rebound from a sharp decline over the past few years, there are questions about whether that newer, faster train — slated to be up and running within the next 15 years — should even go through, given the costs. 

AL JAZEERA: "It also has opponents who say even though Japan Rail is a private company, it's inevitable government money will be needed for the project and Japan can't afford it."

Still, the train could serve as a point of pride, as Bloomberg notes it would boost the bullet train back to the top of the list when it comes to fastest trains. It currently sits in fifth, some 70 mph slower than bitter rival China's Shanghai Maglev, with a top speed of 268 mph. 

Although the train inspired a wave of high speed rail lines across Europe, that enthusiasm didn't really spread to the U.S., which is just now looking into high speed rail — including a line between Dallas and Houston, reportedly inspired by Shinkansen. (Video via Voice of America)

NHK has some fun facts about Shinkansen's 50-year history, including that it's traveled some 1.2 billion miles, carried 5.6 billion passengers and never had a single fatal accident. 

This video includes an image from Doug Bowman  / CC BY 2.0.