Fifty years ago this year, the first Shinkansen bullet train shot out of a station platform in Tokyo.
Nine days before he declared the 1964 Tokyo Olympics open, Emperor Hirohito presided over a ceremony that witnessed the first white-and-blue 'bullet' train streaking from the Japanese capital at 210km/h (130mph) past Mount Fuji and on to Osaka in record time. Sprinting along a brand new, dedicated high-speed passenger track, featuring the fewest possible curves and shooting through 67 miles (108km) of tunnel and over 3,000 bridges, this was no one-off exercise to publicise the international games. The Tokaido Shinkansen (-New Trunk Line') would become not just the world's fastest and most advanced, but also its most intensely used main line railway.
Today, the latest, snake-like, 16-car Shinkansen trains leave Tokyo for Osaka up to every three minutes, each offering comfortable seats for 1,323 passengers and cruising at 270km/h (168mph). From last year, trains on the Tohuku Shinkansen, one of the six high-speed lines opened over the past fifty years, scythe through sections of Japan's mountainous landscape at 320km/h (199mph). Japan's renowned bullet trains have made domestic flying all but redundant between major cities. Not only are they very fast, frequent, spotlessly clean and on time to the second, but their carbon footprint is 16% that of cars making the same journeys according to the Japan Railway and Transport review. And since Hirohito waved that first train away from Tokyo in 1964, there have been no fatalities on the network. In 50 years, two trains have been derailed, one during an earthquake in 2004, another in a blizzard last year, yet the Shinkansen's safety record has remained unimpaired.
Japan on Tuesday started fully operating the world's first geostationary weather satellite capable of taking images in color, hoping to forecast typhoon movements and concentrated downpours more accurately. (Kyodo)
Police arrested a 40-year-old man Monday for allegedly setting fire to his own home in Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture, where four bodies, believed to be his children, were found amid the burned wreckage. (Japan Times)
Evacuees from a southwestern Japanese island hit by a volcanic eruption made a brief return to their homes on Tuesday ahead of an approaching typhoon. But their trip was cut short due to volcanic quakes. (NHK)
Tokyo Metropolitan Police on Monday announced the arrest of the boss of an organized crime group for the alleged confinement and assault of a construction worker, reports the Sankei Shimbun (July 6). (Tokyo Reporter)
Meet Ladybaby, the Japanese musical group that will make you look twice. Featuring Ladybeard, the east's most hirsute crossdressing entertainer, this band's debut song blends infectious Japanese pop with bizarre, energetic heavy metal vocals. (forbes.com)
A 26-year-old man was arrested Sunday for allegedly confining in his car an 11-year-old schoolgirl who went missing the day before in Nara Prefecture while shopping with her family, police said. (Kyodo)
A drug control division of the health ministry on Saturday announced the arrest of a former executive of public broadcaster NHK for the importation of so-called "dangerous drugs," reports the Sankei Shimbun (July 4). (Tokyo Reporter)
rown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, who are visiting Tonga, attended the coronation of King Tupou VI of Tonga held at a church in its capital, Nukualofa, on Saturday. This is the first time in two years that Crown Princess Masako has engaged in official duties overseas. (The Japan News)
Nearly 40 percent of single people in their 20s and 30s do not want a romantic partner, according to a survey by the Cabinet Office released in June. The survey was included in a government white paper on Japan's notoriously low birthrate that also found 46.2 percent of singles claiming that relationships were "bothersome." (Japan Times)