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Riding JNR from 1962 to 1966 - Memories Part Two


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The origin of a standard gauge, long distance train concept was discussed in Japan during the early 1930s, when Japan expanded its empire on mainland Asia. The necessity to move troops, materiel, cargo and people over the expansive land area of Northeaster China, more precisely Manchuria (Manchukuo in Japanese), became an important topic. Research begin at the Japanese National Railway's Kunitachi Test Laboratory in the Western suburbs of Tokyo. The work was stopped in 1943, when Japan's war fortunes declined and the research budget had to be cancelled. After Japan's defeat, during the Allied occupation, emphasis was on the restoration of rail services and it was not until the latter part of the 1950s that the expansion of the railroad system and the idea of a high speed intercity passenger line resurfaced. Helped by the fact that Japan was awarded the staging of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Transportation Ministry bureaucrats managed to convince politicians and the general public to build a "new, high speed, bullet train, trunk line." Thus the idea of the Shinkansen was resurrected and building completed in the summer of 1964. Service opened in the fall, October 1st to be exact, just in time to impress the visiting Olympians and tourists with the fastest passenger train service in the world. The original line extended from Tokyo to Osaka, the second largest city and metropolitan area in the country. Travel time initially was four hours, however, by the spring of 1965, the schedule was revised and 40 minutes were cut from the schedule.

I married my sweetheart on January 9th, 1965, and after our wedding ceremony at her church near Tokyo University, we were driven by a friend to Tokyo Station. Another close friend of ours gave us a great wedding present: Two very expensive round-trip tickets from Tokyo to Kyoto. We were off on our honeymoon. I recall the day clearly as it was an overcast and cold winter afternoon when we boarded the train. The seats still had that "new smell" and even the standard class had plush seats, plenty of hip and leg room. Soon after departure, I visited the buffet car and was impressed by the large speed dial on the wall. We were aware when in the trip we would reach speeds in excess of 200 km/hour and a lot of passengers congregated there to watch the dial pass that mark. The ride was smooth and we found the total quiet impressive, almost eerie. To be frank, we were expecting the usual chatter and noise as the wheels passed over the rail joints. There was none. As expected, our train arrived in Kyoto right on time. We spent four nights in Kyoto and three nights in Nara, taking the train between the two cities. We managed to get on the wrong train while visiting Nara and surprisingly ended up in Osaka. Well, it was an auspicious omen as unexpectedly we enjoyed a great Kobe steak dinner.

Since that first ride in January, 1965, we have rode the Tokaido Shinkansen probably 7 or 8 times; the last time in

June, 2014 while celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary with a return trip. The elapsed time to Kyoto is now 2 hours and 20 minutes, and while everything about our cars have been upgraded, it still brings back wonderful memories and provides great travelling convenience and comfort. We are convinced that passenger trains are the most civilized way to travel!

One incident just occurred to me: Some time in the 1970s, way before we ever even imagined cell phones, there was telephone service on the Shinkansen! We visited my brother-in-law, living in Osaka at the time, and 20 minutes before our arrival we called him to come by and pick us up at Shin-Osaka Station. We considered the convenience a miracle of futuristic communication at the time. We came a long way since.

More later.

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