Friday, March 16, 2012

End of the Line

The 100 series courtesy of timtak

The 300 series courtesy of dscreativ

The Japan Sea Train courtesy of nanahocya
Friday March 16, 10:43 a.m.

I think all those train lovers out there should bring out the Kleenex for this entry. I'm pretty sure none of the train otaku in Japan will survive with a dry eye past this year.

Last year, the original Shinkansen Bullet Train...the 0 series....was finally put out to pasture after decades of service. Just in the last couple of weeks, I've heard that its next two levels of descendants, the 100 and 300 series, will also be retired. I think they still look pretty sleek, although the later series look even closer to Starfleet design. Once these babies have their last runs, there will be armies of train otaku on the platforms of Tokyo Station and other stops with their digital SLRs and movie cameras to commit the scenes for posterity. And JR will have ceremonies with all of the pomp and circumstance of a royal funeral.

While trains in Canada and the United States are hardly mentioned at all...let alone with any sort of reverence (and with the exception of any crashes), the Japanese have had a long love affair with their trains, particularly the ones which have the overnight sleeper car service. Songs have often been written about particular trains. Because of the size of the country, the Japanese love of domestic travel and need for business trips, and the excellent service (aside from the occasional screwup), rail travel still gives air travel a run for their money and passengers in Japan. One of the top stories on NHK News this morning was the semi-retirement of The Japan Sea (Nihon Kai) run from Aomori Prefecture to Shin-Osaka Station. A few veteran passengers of the line gave wistful interviews about how much of a second home away from home it was.

I've had a few experiences on the Bullet while I was in Japan. Of course, I rode the original Zero and perhaps even the 100 series. Riding in the non-reserved section usually, it almost felt like I was speeding along in my own warp bubble...almost separated from the surrounding countryside although I could clearly see the rice fields outside. The ride was that smooth. One time in 1991, I had the chance to ride a Bullet all the way from Hakata Station to Tokyo...a 6-hour ride at the time. I finally got an elite Green Car seat and so it was slightly wider than the usual jiyuuseki. Plus, I had been one of the last passengers to eat in the dining car before it was discontinued.

One of my dreams was to have ridden the Cassiopeia. This is the Tokyo-Sapporo run which lasts for almost an entire day, and is basically the equivalent of a modern hotel on wheels. The prices and popularity also reflect those of The Imperial Hotel. I simply couldn't afford the time and money for it, but perhaps there may be a remote chance in my life that I can still get on it before it, too, gets retired.