Philip Brasor and Masako Tsubuku “How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today” http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/30/-sp-shinkansen-bullet-train-tokyo-rail-japan-50-years
In an interview in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper last week, Takashi Hara, a political scholar and expert on Japanese railroads*1, said the policy of extending the Shinkansen was promulgated by Kakuei Tanaka, Japan’s prime minister from 1972 to 1974. “The purpose was to connect regional areas to Tokyo,” Hara said. “And that led to the current situation of a national Shinkansen network, which completely changed the face of Japan. Travel times were shortened and vibration was alleviated, making it possible for more convenient business and pleasure trips, but I have to say that the project just made all the [connecting] cities part of Tokyo.”
And where the Shinkansen’s long tentacles go, other services shrivel. Local governments in Japan rely heavily on the central government for funds and public works – it’s how the central government keeps them in line. Politicians actively court high-speed railways since they believe they attract money, jobs and tourists. In the early 1990s, a new Shinkansen was built to connect Tokyo to Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The train ran along a similar route as the Shinetsu Honsen, one of the most romanticised railroads in Japan, beloved of train buffs the world over for its amazing scenery – but also considered redundant by operators JR East because, as with almost all rural train lines in Japan, it lost money. There were only two profitable stations on the line – Nagano and the resort community of Karuizawa – and both would be served by the new Shinkansen. A large portion of the Shinetsu Honsen closed down; local residents who relied on it had to use cars or buses.
Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than \100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.
The Shinkansen’s focus on Tokyo, and the subsequent emphasis on profitability over service, has also accelerated flight from the countryside. It’s often easier to get from a regional capital to Tokyo than to the nearest neighbouring city. Except for sections of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which serves northeastern Japan, local train lines don’t always accommodate Shinkansen rolling stock, so there are often no direct transfer points between local lines and Shinkansen lines. The Tokaido Shinkansen alone now operates 323 trains a day, taking 140 million fares a year, dwarfing local lines. This has had a crucial effect on the physical shape of the city. As a result of this funnelling, Tokyo is becoming even denser and more vertical – not just upward, but downward. With more Shinkansen passengers coming into the capital, JR East has to dig ever deeper under Tokyo Station to create more platforms.
新幹線プロジェクトの初期段階の目標は、とにかく小田急のロマンスカーよりも速い電車を作ることだったんだね。記事の後半部では、東京と名古屋を結ぶリニア新幹線が言及されているのだが、それによって名古屋が「東京の郊外」になるかどうかはともかくとして、地形上の都合から殆ど区間はトンネルとなるので、要するにリニア新幹線というのは「とても長い地下鉄の旅（a very long subway ride）」ということになる。
After the war Tokyo was in ruins, but its rebuilding progressed without any master plan. As industries gravitated to the city, young people flocked to Tokyo to work; and as they started families they were encouraged to buy homes. The only land they could afford, however, was outside the already densely populated city. Property prices skyrocketed in the 1970s, and even more during the “bubble era” of the 1980s, forcing newer families even further from the city centre. Tokyo swelled to elephantine proportions. The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, composed of four prefectures, became the world’s pre-eminent megalopolis – some 35 million people by 2010, or 27% of Japan’s total population. It isn’t unusual for commuters to spend two hours getting to work every day on trains that exceed 150% of capacity.
This “rush hour hell” has been made famous worldwide by images of station employees stuffing stragglers into packed train cars – potent symbols of the superhuman forbearance of the Japanese worker, but also the dogged efficiency of Japan’s railways. All foreign visitors to Japan invariably ride the trains and come away with the same impression: Japan’s public transportation is the cleanest, most courteous in the world, run by uniformed, be-gloved men and women who still epitomise a hallowed Japanese work ethic that most companies struggle to maintain in an economy that has remained sluggish for two decades.
*1:原武史？ であるならば、TakashiではなくTakeshiが正しいだろう。See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20080729/1217311769 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20090310/1236651685 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20091117/1258424994 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110722/1311272591 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20131115/1384501967