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.
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