The bullet train, an iconic symbol of Japan’s postwar economic boom, marked 50 years of service on Wednesday with a celebratory ceremony at Tokyo Station.
A state-of-the-art N700A bullet train left the station bound for Fukuoka at 6 a.m., witnessed by officials of Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) and special invitees born the same year as the shinkansen.
Similar ceremonies were held in Shizuoka, Nagoya and Osaka.
Bullet trains got their start on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, which revolutionized the country’s transportation network when it began service on Oct. 1, 1964, nine days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics.
It was the world’s fastest train, with a top speed of 210 kph, cutting the 515-km route between Tokyo and Osaka to four hours.
Shinkansen trains now travel the route at up to 270 kph and take just two hours and 25 minutes to connect the metropolises. The top speed will be raised to 285 kph next spring.
The line has carried a remarkable 5.6 billion passengers and its trains have covered a cumulative 2 billion km, the equivalent of 50,000 trips around the Earth. An average of 424,000 passengers use it every day, compared with over 60,000 during its first year.
The shinkansen “is representative of Japanese technology and the embodiment of the powers of many companies,” JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge said at the Tokyo Station ceremony. “We will continue to deliver safer, more comfortable and more precise-time transportation.”
Subsequent shinkansen lines extended the network across Japan as far as Aomori Prefecture in the north and Kagoshima Prefecture in the southwest.
More lines are under construction or in the planning stage, including a next-generation magnetically levitated train, which JR Tokai is expected to start working on next year.
If all goes according to plan, it will link Nagoya and Shinagawa Station in Tokyo in just 40 minutes starting in 2027, and will run at speeds of up to 500 kph.