Postcard from... Tokyo


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Fumihiro Araki hauled himself into the driver’s seat of one of the first bullet trains which revolutionised travel in Japan and inspired imitations all over the world. He pulled a lever on the control panel, looking straight ahead as he was trained 50 years ago when the trains were first inaugurated.

“It was like flying in the sky, it was that kind of feeling,” said Araki, a former train driver who is now the acting director of Saitama train museum outside Tokyo.

“On a clear day, you could see Mount Fuji, and riding atop the railway bridge at Hamanako lake was very pleasant. It felt like you were sailing above the sea.”

Japan started building a high-speed line during the Second World War, but construction was halted in 1943 as funds ran out. The idea was revived in the 1950s, but many questioned undertaking such a costly project, particularly with the expansion of air travel and highways. Criticism turned to pride when construction, financed partly by an $80m World Bank loan, was completed in time for the Tokyo Olympics in October 1964. The bullet train network is also credited with aiding Japan’s postwar development.

The 1 October inauguration ceremony was re-enacted at Tokyo Station yesterday at 6am, complete with ribbon cutting. The first bullet train, with its almost cute bulbous round nose, travelled from Tokyo to Osaka in four hours, shaving two and a half hours off the 319-mile journey. The latest model, with a space-age-like elongated nose, takes just two hours and 25 minutes.