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Opened In Advance Of 1964 Games, Japan’s Shinkansen – Or Bullet Train – Remains A Point Of National Pride

By Todd Kortemeier | Jan. 01, 2019, 12:01 a.m. (ET)


The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, and while they may be nearly 20 months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.


The Olympic Games Tokyo 1964 are often seen as a landmark moment in Japanese history, not only for the honor of hosting the Games themselves, but as a turning point that signaled the rise of modern Japan.

That was due in large part to the rapid improvement of the nation’s infrastructure, notably with the construction of the Shinkansen high-speed rail system. Commonly known in English as the bullet train, the Shinkansen is one of the fastest and most technologically advanced rail systems in the world. 

Opened on Oct. 1, 1964, just nine days before the Opening Ceremony of the Games, the first train line was built in just about five years. The first line to open was the Tokaido line between Tokyo and Osaka. A trip that had taken nearly seven hours could now be accomplished in four at speeds of 130 miles per hour.

Today the Tokyo-Osaka run takes just under two-and-a-half hours at nearly 200 miles per hour. And the Shinkansen network across the country consists of more than 1,700 miles from Sapporo in the north to Kagoshima in the south. It has carried 10 billion passengers in its 50-plus years of operation without a single fatal accident.

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Perhaps even more impressive than the train’s speed and safety is its punctuality. The average Shinkansen delay is measured in seconds, not minutes. The Central Japan Railway Company, which operates the Tokaido line, reports an average delay of 24 seconds.

And the Shinkansen is still growing. More lines are in the works, as well as a new magnetic levitation (maglev) train currently in the testing stages. The maglev set a new world record for fastest train in 2015, reaching a top speed of 375 miles per hour on a test track. The first line of the Chuo Shinkansen maglev will open from Nagoya to Tokyo in 2027 and extend to Osaka by 2045. Passengers will be able to travel from Tokyo to Osaka in just 67 minutes at speeds of 345 miles per hour.

Visitors to Tokyo in 2020 won’t need the Shinkansen to get around the city. But should they venture out to explore the country, there’s no better way to see it than in the Shinkansen — even if the scenery moves by in a blur.

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.


A view of the Shinkansen on Aug. 13, 2010 in Japan..