By >RENO J. TIBKE
Shinkansen 2027: Fiercely Minimalist Maglev Stations?
Fourteen years from now, when Japan’s magnetically levitated, approx. 300MPH/482KPH Chuō Shinkansen comes online, it’ll be among the world’s coolest people movers – maybe even top of the list. And the world’s most fantastic train should have equally fantastic train stations, yeah?
While the existence of this train is old news, released just last week were Japan Railways’ design proposals for stations on the initial Tokyo to Nagoya route (with eventual extension to Osaka). Suffice it to say, as proposed these supertech trains would be stopping at stations with an aesthetic that aggressively bypasses any notion of post-modern minimalism and instead lands somewhere in the vicinity 1970s Soviet chic. They’re basically elevators, stairs, automated ticket counters, toilets, and tracks.
Train Stations are Not Just Train Stations (in Japan)
For one who’s never traveled here, this might not seem like such a big deal. Because it’s just a train station, for a very fast train at that, so who’s looking to linger? Well, the thing is, in Japan even medium-sized and smallish train stations can be the nuclei of entire neighborhoods or city wards, and they’re often social & economic ecosystems unto themselves; think variably sized multilevel shopping malls where trains happen to stop. This is particularly true in places like Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka where rail stations serve literally millions of passengers on a daily basis.
Japan Railways is calling the designs “modern” and “revolutionary,” but here in rapidly aging, often techno-contradictory Japan (yes, the rumors about ongoing fax machine usage are true), dispensing with the niceties and familiarities of strongly analog and strongly full-service rail travel culture might be too tall an order – the natives might revolt… which basically just means they’ll demand that their local municipalities cocoon the stations with restaurants, convenience stores, souvenir shops, coin lockers, and little out of the way cubbys with those stand-up irons to press your pants.
Remains to be seen, but we’ll keep you dialed in as things unfold.
Addendum on Nomenclature:
Oh, by the way, the ultra-utilitarian stations aren’t the only thing that could use a bit more thought: “Chuō Shinkansen” might sound exotic and Japanesey, but it really just means “Central Shinkansen.” And, though the name’s gained a domestic and international cache of high-tech coolness, “shinkansen” just means “new main line.”
Sure, a dead-sexy maglev bullet train is a concept that sells itself, but let’s hope that gets some polish. Because calling this thing the “Central Shinkansen” would be like naming the latest Ferrari “Red Car.”
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Akihabara News Contributor Reno J. Tibke is the founder and operator of Anthrobotic.com.