Trains in Japan (and here)

You might file this under Things In Which Only I’m Interested, but if you’re a bit of a train-geek like me, then by all means read on.

I wouldn’t call myself a genuine trainspotter because a) I’m not, and b) trainspotting as a serious hobby is probably taking it a bit far, but now and again I do spot small but significant junctions of train news. Junctions. See what I did there? Train-geek!

This past month marked the ends of two iconic passenger trains, one on each side of the east and west extremes of Eurasia. First, there was the retiring of British Rail’s hallowed and quite wonderful Intercity 125. Much ink was spilled over its impending replacement by the Hitachi Class 800.

British Rail’s Intercity 125. She and I were born in the same year—1975 (photo: Wiki Commons).

The tone of the BBC’s reporting came with a slight overtone of fading national pride (cf. the flags of the UK and Japan, printed on fake trading cards featuring stats about the respective trains). For me, both trains are equally cool. While I would love to see Britain—the place that gave the world its first ever modern public railway—produce new innovations to carry on their legacy, for now I’m just pleased to know train travel rolls on, albeit it a bit slowly, in the country where I live.

Meanwhile, in Japan—that other train-loving industrial archipelago—there was also bittersweet train news to speak of. On March 12, it was the last run of the famed Twilight Express night train between Osaka and Sapporo. Tickets to be a passenger on that nostalgic final run cost more than ¥1 million ($8300 USD).

Twilight Express

At each station, large crowds assembled for one final glimpse of the Twilight Express (photo: Mainichi Shinbun).

On the bright side, however, Japan also added a new high-speed Hokuriku Shinkansen train between Tokyo and Kanazawa. This was also a big deal, and quite a few Japanese slebs came out to greet it, including one of my favourite actresses, Anne Watanabe (yes, daughter of Ken). I’m not sure why new trains don’t receive the same star treatment outside of Japan…but I sure wish they did.

(Speaking of trains and wishes, if you want to see a fabulous film about the strange and wondrous psychology of a child combined with Japanese high-speed train travel, I highly, highly recommend Hirokazu Koreeda’s film I Wish. Now, back to trains.)

Kanazawa, the end of the Hokuriku Line, also happens to be my wife’s home town, meaning the next time I visit the in-laws, we’ll be able to take the brand new Kagayaki train straight from downtown Tokyo.

Needless to say, I can’t wait.

Kagayaki Shinkansen

Waving hello to the first run of the Kagayaki; that’s Anne Watanabe in the green (photo: Tokyo Broadcasting System).


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