How Japan’s Bullet Trains Changed Travel


Today’s high-speed trains will have you cruising along at 350 kilometres per hour. A ticket is about the same as a flight, and the door-to-door time on some of the world’s most popular routes is the same, or less than getting a plane. But decades ago rail travel was in decline. It faced fierce competition from the air and auto industries. Then came Japan’s bullet train. By the late 1950s, Japan’s economic miracle had transformed the war ravaged nation. Its economy was growing quickly. The area between Tokyo and Osaka was booming with industry. People were flocking to the capital for work but the rail line connecting the two major cities couldn’t take the stress. In 1958, a government panel was set up to tackle the problem and several potential solutions arose. Among them, building the world’s first high-speed rail line. Many were skeptical, but two men were true believers. Shinji Sogō was the then president of the state-run Japanese National Railways. The other, Sogō’s colleague, veteran engineer Hideo Shima. Up against bureaucratic obstacles and fierce opposition – the two drove the project forward. In 1959, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line started construction under Sogō’s leadership. Shima was appointed the project’s chief engineer. His team designed the sleek and revolutionary cone-shaped front – from which the bullet train got its name. Rather than being pulled by an engine in front, each carriage of the bullet train was driven by an individual electric motor, which has proven to be safer, faster and more efficient. Apart from the train itself, the team also built wider tracks, which were more costly but allowed for greater stability and higher speeds. 3,000 bridges and 67 tunnels were built on the 515-kilometer line to allow a clear and largely curveless path. Older trains were banned from the new line. Equipped with advanced technologies, the new trains were able to travel as fast as 210 kilometers per hour, a breakthrough in the passenger rail industry and the world’s fastest at the time. The journey time between Tokyo and Osaka was cut from over 6 hours to 4. On October 1, 1964, the new line opened, just in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games. But neither Sogō’ nor Shima were invited for the inauguration. They both resigned in 1963 because the project’s budget came in at double what was promised – 400 billion yen, the equivalent of 3.6 billion US dollars today. But despite their premature departure, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line was an immediate success and quickly turned a profit. It transformed the nation – allowing more people to work in metropolitan areas and became a symbol of Japan’s postwar re-emergence as an economic and tech power. Now over 300 trains operate on the line everyday. And the trip between Tokyo and Osaka has shortened to two and a half hours. The number of passengers has also soared, reaching 165 million in 2016. After the success of the Tōkaidō Shinkanse line, Japan has continued expanding its high-speed rail network and plans to build more. Following Japan’s lead, countries like France, Germany and China have also developed high-speed railways. By the end of 2018, the total length of high-speed rail network in the world will be over 46,000 kilometers, and over half of it is in China.

100 Replies to “How Japan’s Bullet Trains Changed Travel

  1. Here in India people are skeptic of bullet train and yes we still a lot of problem to solve probably more than other countries due to diversity we have but high speed railways will bring economy to next gear and accelerate the economy and better connection of major cities. That will help solving problem much faster than before.

  2. China's Success Put Other Countries to Shame.. especially Mine… Our Fastest Train is 160kmph.. that Too On a Single Route to Taj Mahal

  3. Thank you for picking up the 🇯🇵Japanese 🚅Bullet train (Shinkansen). I am really proud of 🇯🇵Japan and it is very convenient. I am surprised that 🇺🇸America is not running at all in developed countries.

  4. first high speed experiments with electric trains running faster than 200 km/h have been made south of Berlin before the First World War.
    Italy has build two "Direttissima" in the time of Mussolini. Japan has been running 1435 mm railway systems in occupied Manchuria where they intruduced the Asia Express between Dalian and Xinjing. With a maximum speed of 134 km/h this was the fastest train in Asia in those days.

  5. There is no reason why we can't have bullet trains in the USA. We just need to get rid of the Republicans and their coal mining/oil burning overseers.

  6. I went to Japan a year and a half ago, and the Shinkansen is so nice. It's a bit expensive (more than a flight would have been I think), but waaaay more leg room than an airplane and you don't have to go to the airport, go through security, taxi to the runway, … you get the rest. Plus, you get some nice views from the train. The plane you wouldn't get as many (although seeing the clouds/ocean is still nice, just really far below the plane).

  7. Loved riding the Shinkansen in Japan. Everything is spotless, train timing is down to the minute, and they sell cute little bento boxes on the platforms

  8. Haha, Germany and high speed trains😂🤣yes, we technically have the ice but…yeah…german trains suck big time. Cologne to Berlin is roughly the same distance as Osaka to Tokyo. But the ice needs 4.5h to complete the Trip. Plus it's always late and most likely will get cancelled, so expect more like 6h

  9. You can see one of the first shinkansen engines at the Omiya train museum! If that's the sorta thing that interests you, definitely check it out if you're in Saitama!

  10. If all goes well, Texas could have the very first high-speed railway with a Bullet Train connecting Dallas to Houston sometime between 2021-2024. A 4 hour drive would then turn into an hour and a half train ride away.

  11. As a steam train enthusiast, I can say that I am not a big fan of auto travel. It is the most wasteful modes of travel ever.🚂🚂🚄🚄

  12. So basically ruining the landscape and nature… because we want fast and we care about nothing else just our pleasure, aka because fuck you.

  13. how American automobile giant, Boeing earn money when American all using train to travel? For some reason, USA will remain as a car country forever

  14. Japan is a small country with 40% US population

    train could find more customer with high population density when the US could not

  15. It would be a great infrastructure and jobs project to start construction for lines from Boston to Miami and Seattle (Vancouver BC even better) to San Diego. it won't ever happen but it would be great.

  16. We do not need more Shinkansen bullet trains in Japan. Most of them are in red operation. They are built for politicians' ego. From one of the Japanese.

  17. This only works between two high density locations that are relatively close to each other. That's why this won't catch on in most of America. Besides their coast lines, their population simply isn't dense enough to support these lines.

  18. I prefer to travel by train long distance which I do travel on Amtrak. I also travel on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner when I’m home in he San Diego area from San Diego to Los Angeles & Oxnard,CA alternating my visits between Los Angeles & Oxnard. It beats driving on the I-5/U.S.101 & I-405 parking lots and also beats the bus, beats flying domestically. The only way I’ll fly is Trans Pacific between Los Angeles & Manila on Philippine Airlines, Los Angeles & Honolulu, San Diego & Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines, Trans Atlantic between Boston & Dublin’s on Aer Lingus Irish Airlines, Between Boston & Oslo on Scandinavian Airlines and between Philadelphia & Rome on Alitalia Airlines.

  19. Wow great video on the Bullet Trains. If you like Train Videos visit Wide Wrld of Trains on YouTube, we add new Train Videos every day of the year!

  20. Where is that first shot from? Must be somewhere shortly after Shin-Fuji st. towards Tokyo. And shot with super telephoto, to have Fuji so big in a frame.

  21. America has horrible passenger trains, but our freight trains, we have the best freight system, plus the world's most powerful locomotive. But trains the American passenger train was great, until the about 1960.

  22. Lol. I used to live in the US, and if you didn't own a car you basically had no means of transport, and riding a train was considered poor. Whereas in Japan if you own a car it means you live in the countryside, and if you don't own a car and live near the station it means you can afford the rent and have easy access to public transport.

  23. I rode the Shikansen from Fukuoka to Kyoto then to Tokyo(stopped twice for sight seeing) and it was one of the best times traveling. The speed and engineering are superb(I love when two trains cross in opposite directions, not sure how they solved that wind problem) but what's great is seeing the Japanese country side on a summer day. Small villas, bridges, and acres of rice paddies can be seen in the distance even at high speed.

  24. People are complaining why there no bullet train in the US, the answer is simple, US is the biggest aircraft manufacturers in the world. It 10% of GDP. Why would they kill off gold laying goose.

  25. 3:20 You forgot to mention Spain. Now, Spain is the nº 2 country in the world with more kilometres of high speed train (behind China), and the nº 1 considering the ratio of habitants

  26. Perhaps this video also ought to mention that only 1 line is profitable (Osaka Tokyo) and that the long term debts resulting from HSR construction is 300 billion dollars, which basically bankrupted the state run Japanese Railway company. HSR is a boondoggle, which is only useful between extremely densely populated regions not too far apart from each other. Only 2 HSR lines worldwide actually make money.

  27. 60 years ago since, Japan had build Shinkansen almost stretching all over the country now. While NYC still uses trains from 1970's not to mention the fact that we still swiping cards to go through platforms. SMH

  28. "Up against bureaucratic obstacles and fierce opposition, [Sogo and Shima] drove the project forward."

  29. it took me like 4 hours to get from Tokyo to Kyoto which is still an hour from osaka, idk where the 2.5 came from lolll

  30. Currently when I write this at May 11th, 2019, the Shinkansen max speed is 320 km/h on the Tohoku Shinkansen between Utsunomiya and Morioka. JR East planned the max speed 360 km/h by 2020.

  31. You saying older trains were banned is similar to saying older trains were banned from hyperloop infrastructure. Well, duh!. They're not compatible with each other so, one would believe a 'ban' is vital.

  32. Meanwhile in Australia, we are still arguing about the safety of public Electric Scooters 🛴 😂😂 smh

  33. America: we have the greatest vehicles of all time! look at that constellation!
    *japan builds high speed train
    America: HA! can't beat us with that "fast trains" of yours our planes will be the image all around the world!
    *japan finishes high speed trains and beats america
    america:
    [surprised pikachu]

  34. Japan is currently working on the Chuo Shinkansen, a maglev version of the Tokyo-Osaka high speed rail line capable of even higher speeds.

  35. Wow, so sad the 2 men resigned on principle when the budget got too high. GREAT JOB ! 210 kph = 130 mph ! OUTstanding !
    I wish we had these trains in the USA !
    In California, a Bay Area train to silicon valley San Jose would be fantastic, and probably be quicker then any car commute, which can be 1-2 hours ! For 30 miles.
    So, I guess in all these high speed trains, there is one electric motor per car? INTERESTING. And the motors can probably brake by recirculating current?

  36. The Japanese who always plan ahead decided that an advanced economy needed to be able to transport a skilled population quickly and efficiently to and from their jobs and schools and industries.

  37. Nowadays most infrastructure aimed to shift from fossil fuel to electric sources still face fierce opposition and claims about cost rise. Have humanity ever learned about history before?

  38. A long time ago in the galaxy trains were profitable but then turned into socialistic subsidized taxpayer money pit and instrument of corruption and state power.

  39. How Japan’s Bullet Trains Changed Travel, How CHINA’s Bullet Trains Changed the World. hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

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