Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan (review)
- East Asian Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal
- Duke University Press
- Volume 2, Number 1, 2008
- pp. 139-141
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEW Christopher P. Hood. Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan London and New York: Routledge, 2006 Yasushi Sato Received: 15 December 2007 /Accepted: 15 December 2007 / Published online: 6 May 2008 # National Science Council, Taiwan 2008 In 1964, two events epitomized Japan’s spectacular recovery and growth after World War II. One was the Tokyo Olympics, starting on October 10 of that year. The other was the opening of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, a high-speed railway system connecting Tokyo and Osaka. Also known as the bullet train, it started operation on October 1, just in time for the Olympics. It later grew into the network of shinkansen covering most areas of Japan. Christopher Hood, Director of the Cardiff Japanese Studies Center, Cardiff University, has conducted a historical and sociological study of this transportation infrastructure. Hood’s overall argument is that “the shinkansen has become a symbol of Japan,” and that “the way it was established, [the way] the network has developed, how it is operated, and even the way it looks reflect many different aspects of Japanese society” (p. 1). Hood approaches the topic from a remarkably broad range of perspectives. After explaining the methodology for the study in Chapter 1, he provides a concise summary of the history of the shinkansen in Chapter 2. Then, in Chapter 3, Hood goes on to discuss the shinkansen against the background of Japanese culture. He examines how the Japan National Railways (JNR) determined the names of train services such as “Hikari” and “Kodama” and the names of stations, to what extent the shinkansen fits the criteria of beauty put forward by philosopher Yanagi Sōetsu, and how the shinkansen is represented in films, stamps, and television programs. In Chapter 4, Hood turns to Japan’s political culture, assessing how and to what extent “pork-barrel” politics affected the construction of the shinkansen. Hood rightly points out that, even where politicians seemingly had strong influence in determining the route and the location of stations, technical/practical considerations were also always there. In Chapter 5, Hood takes up the financial issues, analyzing the cost of the shinkansen’s construction and its profitability. Here he also discusses the impact that the shinkansen had on the national and regional economies. In Chapter 6, Hood focuses on what he calls the “software” of the shinkansen, namely East Asian Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal (2008) 2:139–141 DOI 10.1007/s12280-008-9034-9 Y. Sato (*) National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo, Japan e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org the training of employees supporting the shinkansen’s effective operation. Here he underscores the cultural differences among JR East, JR Tōkai, JR West, and other JRs which came into being after the privatization of JNR in 1987. In Chapter 7, Hood further explores a variety of connections between the shinkansen and Japanese society. The topics here include countermeasures against natural hazards such as snow and earthquakes, efforts to reduce noise and vibration, CO2 emission and energy consumption, religious rituals and suicides, traditional roles of female workers and increase in the number of female conductors, and common activities of the passengers. Finally, in Chapter 8, Hood briefly describes the construction of the Taiwan high-speed railway, which opened recently. Dealing with such a wide range of topics in a single volume is an ambitious task. It is all the more demanding because the book covers not only the Tōkaidō Shinkansen but also other lines such as the Sanyō Shinkansen and the Jōetsu Shinkansen. As a result, the book constitutes a balanced account of the shinkansen as a whole, with analysis from an unprecedented width of perspectives as well as basic historical facts and statistics, but its discussion is sometimes rough and superficial. For example, Hood has performed a search of such words as “Japan,” “shinkansen,” and “Mt Fuji,” in an image database and then asserts that the Tōkaidō Shinkansen has had high representation in media and that its link with Mt Fuji has been relatively strong, just by indicating the number of hits in the database (p. 58). In another example, he compares the characters of JRs...