JENESYS 2018: My Shinkansen Experience

SENDAI, JAPAN: In some parts of the world, a train is just a metal car. But for Japan, their train system is a depiction of their dedication to improving their way of life. I know this for a fact as we attended a talk by Mr Takaaki Furuhashi from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan.

Mr Takaaki Furuhashi, Chief in the Office of Project Development, International Policy and Project Division Railway Bureau under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan.

He said the train and railway infrastructure system and the surrounding development of each station is planned as far ahead as 40 years and implemented according to phases over the years as the area meet certain population conditions to ensure their train system continuously meet the needs of the public.

With Malaysia building its first HSR infrastructure, the Japanese comprehensive and integrated development of their railway system is certainly worth emulating. Here are some interesting details that was shared by Mr Takaaki Furuhashi on the Shinkansen.

Train line up from left to right: Hayabusa, Yamabiko, Nasuno, Tsubasa, Tanigawa, Asama.

The word “Shinkansen” means Super New Express in Japanese and is known as “bullet train” because of the it’s speed and it’s shape that resembles a bullet. The Shinkansen is actually a railway network and not the name of the train. The names of the train operating in the Shinkansen network is Hayabusa, Komachi, Nasuno and Yamabiko among others.

Baby holder seat in the Komachi Shinkansen train toilet

Do you know that the toilets are equipped with built-in bidet and baby holder seat? Well, this is for mothers to put their babies when they use the toilets. And the built-in bidet is to ensure the toilet floor is always dry and safe.  Often taken for granted, including these features showcase the Japanese infusing its riders’ needs when riding on the train.

To avoid congestions that may lead to delay, the railway companies have developed easier ticketing and payment process by introducing Passmo and Suica cards. The system is so easy to use even foreigners can pick up the system really fast too.

Prepaid train cards that make comings and goings in a train station super easy

Similar to the “touch and go” feature, this payment system has substantially reduced congestions in all stations all over Japan, while saving a lot of time for commuters on the go.

He also added that over the years, with the rising number of population and tourists, the railway companies had increased train frequency and provided more shuttles to reduce congestions to ensure prompt arrival and departure time in an orderly manner.

The queue during rush hour at the Tohoku Line’s Omiya station

Order has always been the Japanese way of doing things, the precision and discipline is part of the cultural component that contributes to the smooth commute in all the train stations. Even with state-of-the-art advanced technology, the public still hold on to traditional way of order like lining up before boarding the train. I have had the privilege to witness this as I board the Shinkansen train today. I will tell you more on that in a bit.

Before boarding the Shinkansen from the Omiya station, we had a guided tour around the Omiya Train Museum which was a short distance from each other.  What we learnt there was a mixture of both history and future of railway systems in Japan.

Omiya train musuem that houses train body preserved since the 1960s

We were told that Japan bought its first train from the UK.  The body of the first train to operate in Japan remains well preserved in the Omiya train museum. Not long after getting a few imported trains from America and Germany, they have decided to develop their own train and infrastructure system to suit their geographical needs. This was because imported trains were not built to withstand the reoccurring natural disasters that Japan experiences and this resulted to higher cost in repair and maintenance after a disaster hit.

The trains that Japan have today are equipped with features that help mitigate damages to their railway system and heighten the safety level for their users. For example, the earthquake scale detector that sends signals to stop train operations in its’ course until it is determined that it is safe to resume service. Had this technology not be introduced, a train derailed at high speed will definitely claim lives. This system is one of the reasons that contribute to the Shinkansen’s zero fatality record for over 50 years.

I was at ease on board the Shinkansen knowing what I had known and it was an eye-opening experience witnessing how the Japanese embed culture into technology.

We took the Komachi Shinkansen from Omiya station to Sendai station in the Green Car. The Green Car is a reservation only coach and our tickets were paid by the Japanese government. We took the VIP lane into the Omiya station and queued up like the Japanese. We boarded at 4.47pm and arrived in Sendai at 5.49pm as scheduled. The train ride was so comfortable as it glided on the single slab rail, the coach was silent and although it was going at 320km/h you don’t really feel it and I must add that the view along the Tohoku line was amazing. The Shinkansen experience it truly like no other.

Upon arrival at the Sendai station, we walked straight into the S-Pal mall and down to the lobby to wait for our bus to the hotel. The Shinkansen train and its station are so well connected to other mode of transportation such as busses and light transit trains it is not easy to get lost.

Sendai station in Miyagi prefecture Japan

So, if this is what is in store for our own HSR then this is absolutely something to look forward to.  Perhaps the delay to 2020 will see the government developing a comprehensive and integrated railway infrastructure like the Japanese has, integrating the current KTM Komuter, LRT and MRT with other transportation modes.

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