Over the course of the travel leg around Japan, I took the high-speed Shinkansen from city to city, and within each city, I experienced various modes of transportation such as Kyoto's city bus system to Hiroshima's streetcar. While riding the Shinkansen in particular, I observed the convenience and advantages that intercity train travel provide for the Japanese. The patrons are all respective of each other's space; everyone stands in a line at the platform while waiting for the Shinkansen to arrive, and the first person always waits for all onboard passengers to get off before boarding him or herself. Additionally, the train always arrives two minutes before its scheduled departure time, and if the train is said to leave at 1:22 PM, it will do so at precisely that time. I am extremely grateful for the punctuality (except for the delay from Tokyo to Okayama due to a track inspection), but I do admit that I always get anxious when boarding the train, in fear that I do not get on in time. The train station is also extremely accessible; from every hotel we stayed at or tourist attraction we visited (with Fukushima being the one exception), the train station was easy to reach since it was located in the urban area. There are also numerous helpful signs, overhead screens displaying invaluable information, as well as information centers - all to help you navigate your way around and to locate the exact platform your train will arrive at. If you ask for help, you will immediately get a helpful response back, and if you do not understand the first time, the workers there will not hesitate to explain again. Aboard the train, there is also a digital screen at the front of every car, which reads out the next station so that you know when to get off. A few minutes before the Shinkansen approaches a station, an announcement plays along with a euphonious tune, alerting passengers that train is about to stop and awakening anyone who's asleep.
In the United States, however, high-speed trains simply do not exist. There are intercity train systems under the company Amtrak, but I had never heard of it until recently when I searched it up on the internet. The company claims to reach 500 destinations and 46 states with its railway system, but I have never heard of its advantages over the course of my entire life. My family never thinks twice about what transportation system to use when traveling around the country; it is always either by plane or by car, which I find to be more reliable modes of transportation available in the United States. Having no knowledge about intercity train travel in my home country, I cannot assert whether or not the Amtrak transit system satisfies the seven components of good transit service: connectivity between stations, frequency or span, fares, civility, reliability, simplicity, and speed or delay.
Nevertheless, I have also taken a high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid. In Spain, the high-speed rail is called Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), and I found it to be pretty similar to Japan's Shinkansen when looking at the aforementioned factors of a good transit service. I would say that the number of train rides offered each day can amount to those offered in Japan, and the spacing and comfort of each passenger seat on AVE are equivalent to those on the Shinkansen. If I can recall correctly, I believe that there were different seats to choose from when purchasing your ticket, but they, of course, vary in price. The more expensive tickets provide you better quality seating and services, and the lowest available option gave you a non-reserved seat. The patrons are also pretty respective of everyone's space, and they stay relatively quiet during the train ride. It was easy to navigate my way around, but if I got lost, the workers typically gave pretty helpful responses. Getting to the train station in Barcelona was relatively easy, especially if you take the local subway or walk by foot since it was located around many hotels, shops, and restaurants. My family and I personally chose to take a taxi from our hotel to the train station, just for convenience purposes so that we did not have to lug around our heavy suitcases. Furthermore, I had to get my ticket stamped at a machine, which can be found at every platform, because the train conductor later checks your train ticket. On Japan's Shinkansen, however, I noticed a conductor walking down the aisle while carrying some device, but they never personally go by each person in a reserved car to check everyone's ticket.
Unfortunately, I do not know enough about Spain's high-speed rail system to suggest that it is as good as the Shinkansen. In all honesty, it was hard to recall what it was like taking AVE, even though I was in Spain just last summer, because I never really paid attention to the services provided by various train systems until I came to Japan two weeks ago. I can say, however, that there was never a time where I was unsatisfied while taking Spain's transit system. Through this travel leg and study abroad program as a whole, I have paid great attention to Japan's leading transportation systems, and have gained valuable insight into Japan's transit system and where it stands globally. I hope that in the future, the United States can follow after Japan and develop high-speed rail systems, which would become a huge turning point for the country's transportation industry.
Over the course of the past two weeks, I have utilized public transportation more often than I ever have before. From trains to buses and even a ferry, I am consistently impressed by the efficiency and punctuality exhibited by the transit systems of Japan. The form of mass transit that we used most often during our travel leg throughout Japan was the Shinkansen, or the bullet train, which allows individuals to travel easily from city to city.
On the topic of intercity travel, it comes as no surprise that Japan’s intercity transit system surpasses those of other countries. Never before have I experienced intercity travel like that offered by the Shinkansen. The capabilities of American intercity transit systems come nowhere near the Japanese Shinkansen’s capabilities, which is exemplified by the fact that the first thing that came to mind when I thought about “American intercity travel” was the Greyhound Lines bus service. Although Greyhound buses and the Shinkansen both boast Wi-Fi access, power outlets for passenger use, and considerable leg room, the Shinkansen system possesses the advantages of timeliness and availability. Like the majority of American mass transportation systems, one can not always depend on Greyhound Lines to arrive at its destination at the projected time, which is due in part to the buses not having their own designated road lanes for travel. In contrast, the Shinkansen system, like the majority of other Japanese transit systems, is predictable and almost always on time, which is shown by the fact that Dr. Woodall was able to give us the exact arrival and departure times for each of our shinkansen trips approximately two weeks in advance. Furthermore, the Shinkansen has its own designated tracks, which allow it to move unhindered from city to city.
As with other forms of Japanese mass transportation, the patrons of the Shinkansen are generally quiet and respectful. Compared to local train systems, such as those in Tokyo and Kyoto, I noticed more people of other nationalities utilizing the Shinkansen, which makes sense considering that the ease with which one can travel from city to city with the Shinkansen makes it perfect for tourists. As I stated previously, the Shinkansen is almost always a timely service; however, we had the misfortune of experiencing one of the few times when it was delayed. On the way from Tokyo to Kyoto, our train was stopped due to a track inspection, and we were forced to wait for almost an hour, which caused us to miss our connecting train to our final destination. Despite the anxiety that occurred because of this incident, we were able to acquire tickets for a later train to Kyoto, which demonstrates that the Shinkansen system can be flexible and provides users with the freedom to change travel times if desired.
Because Japanese cities are essentially constructed around the mass transit system, it is incredibly simple to locate stations. Stations are usually surrounded by shops, restaurants, and convenience stores, which makes it easy for commuters to amuse themselves or find amenities before their train departs or upon their arrival. In addition, the stations have always been within walking distance of our lodging, which was greatly appreciated as we lugged our suitcases around on our travel leg. Not only are stations easy to locate, but finding information for navigating between cities is also quite straightforward. Although the local train system and the Shinkansen system exist within the same stations, clearly-marked signs point to the area containing the Shinkansen platforms. Overhead displays list the time and platform number for each train, and the tickets inform passengers of their reserved seat number as well as which train car that seat is located in.
The Shinkansen process is designed to make intercity travel as effortless as possible so that passengers are able to journey from location to location with minimal hassle. People are able to ride contentedly due to the provision of internet access, tray tables, and significant leg room; I had to sit next to the tallest student on our program for one of the Shinkansen rides, and even he was able to sit comfortably. If countries like the United States gain inspiration from Japan and improve upon their intercity travel systems, this could promote their usage in the contexts of both business and pleasure, thus increasing the sustainability of intercity travel.
Branching out from the heart of Tokyo and venturing further into the country’s mainland during the travel leg has allowed me to experience a very different side of Japan. Tokyo, the heart of a bustling megaregion, is packed full of people and skyscrapers, with clean streets and efficient transportation. Its infrastructure is made to be sustainable – their population density allows for effective public transit and their culture promotes cleanliness and minimalism. Further outside the city, however, there are obvious differences in transportation and land use.
Flooded rice paddy
Source: A Matter of Taste
As we switched over from the Tokyo Metro to the JR trains, we got a better feel for life outside of the city. The buildings are still compact, but are more spread out and shorter than in Tokyo. The transit system has less centralized hubs, so people more frequently drive cars or take buses. Additionally, a much smaller proportion of the land appears to be used for residential purposes and instead is utilized for agriculture. Much of the terrain we passed on the way to Fukushima from Tokyo was covered with smaller and likely less wealthy villages surrounded by rice paddies. I thought that this difference highlighted an important point that some aspects of sustainability are contingent upon the wealth and resources of an area. Outside the megaregion, cities don’t have the same financial resources or built-in infrastructure to achieve the same sustainable development that Tokyo and nearby major cities have.
Trashbags full of radioactive soil
Visiting Fukushima and meeting with the residents was very moving and inspiring. I had heard of the disaster when it happened in 2011, but never truly understood the scope of the nuclear meltdown or the extent of the citizens’ displacement. I was also especially struck by the social justice aspect of the story – TEPCO, a massive corporation from inside the megaregion, was exploiting a less wealthy village to provide energy for Tokyo. After their failure, the residents of Fukushima have been left to pay the price of an extensive exclusion zone, decreased agricultural market value for crops, health risks, and overall loss of livelihood. They are also forced to bag up and compile what has grown to be 19 million bags of radioactive soil that TEPCO has no real plan for disposing of.
Fukushima’s resilience is incredible – even after being exploited in this way, they are determined to rebuild their hometown and do so even more sustainably than before. Instead of turning to fossil fuels after the nuclear disaster, the city has invested in safer clean energy technologies. They have recently opened solar parks and installed wind turbines to generate energy locally. Their emphasis on future-building education is very impressive and will raise a generation of impassioned locals working to revitalize the area. I am hopeful that this generation will continue to grow and foster renewable energy technologies and help Fukushima become self-sufficient and sustainable.
J-Village in Fukushima (if you look closely you can spot a wind turbine!)
Exploring different regions of Japan has shown me how life varies inside and outside a megaregion. It has also shown me that the ability to practice sustainable development relies on a number of factors that are often harder to achieve with sparser populations and lower GDP. However, Fukushima’s resilience and commitment to revitalize sustainably gives me hope that when a community unifies in support, sustainable development approaches can be attained anywhere.
I think I have ridden on long distance trains in Italy when I was younger, but I don’t remember much of riding on the train. I can remember the stations being smaller with less stores and all the trains were on the same floor area. The stations were more chaotic, with similar amounts of people, but everyone walks everywhere. Here in Japan the walkways are more clearly defined and people are generally more organized. I was surprised when our train was delayed because of an issue with the tracks, but getting on another train was also surprisingly easy.
Thankfully, with my luggage, the train stations have all been within a 10-minute walk from our hotels. It is difficult to carry stuff up or down the stairs when there are no escalators. Because the stations are bigger on the inside, it’s been hard to get around especially with all the stairs. I feel like if I had less stuff to carry it would be perfect. Finding the platform has been really easy. I just look for the Shinkansen signs and find the platform for the area we are going. It hasn’t been confusing at all for me and I like how they have time displays and directions everywhere.
In terms of comfort, the Shinkansen is incredibly smooth. My stomach can get a little confused when we accelerate because it’s so fast, but I haven’t felt sick. I also really enjoy looking out the window. I know the new Shinkansen they’re building is supposed to be mostly underground, which is unfortunate, but worth the speed increase. These trains are very exciting to me as an engineering student and riding on them is a lot of fun. I wish I could take trains all the time in the US.
Japan’s most famous form of transportation is the shinkansen or the “bullet train.” The country first opened the shinkansen for commercial use in 1964 and has since continued to improve the technology, sustainability, and ergonomics of the transportation system.
Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced much intercity travel beyond the United States. While traveling in America, I’ve only ever flown from city to city or driven in a personal car. As such, I’ve never ridden on a train, let alone a bullet train. After traveling around Japan for a week, I now have incredibly high expectations for train systems in other countries. I was expecting the trains to be like that of movies: personal booths along a hallway. However, the shinkansen is more like the layout of a plane. There is a central aisle with rows of seats on either side and room for baggage above the seats. The shinkansen is much more comfortable than a plane. The seats are spacious with generous leg room. There are outlets in each row of seats to recharge devices. There are bathrooms, smoking rooms, air conditioning, and a food and drink trolley that consistently runs us and down the aisle. However, shinkansen vary slightly in size and amenities. The first shinkansen we rode had slightly less leg room but more outlets than the shinkansen I rode from Tokyo to Kyoto. This comfort is important, as the shinkansen have an annual passenger count of roughly 143,015,000 people. The shinkansen also serve the same purpose as domestic American flights; traversing the country to take passengers from major city to major city. In America, flights have roughly 741.6 million annual domestic passengers, but most planes only carry around 175 people. The shinkansen can carry up to 1,300 people, making it more sustainable. Airplanes are more convenient in America, as they can travel up to 907 km/h while shinkansen travel around 320 km/h. America is also larger, and less streamlined than Japan. The shinkansen is more sustainable and comfortable, but American flights are more direct, faster, and convenient. I would be pleased if America began using shinkansen or other large scale, sustainable transportation, but that would require a large infrastructure investment.
Aboard the shinkansen, the train is usually silent. Most patrons sleep, read, eat, and listen to music with headphones. It is very peaceful. The punctuality of the shinkansen is beyond peer. The layout of the shinkansen may be similar to a domestic American flight but not the reliability. Flights plan extra time for terminal and runway delays, and even then, sometimes they cannot arrive on time. Shinkansen leave the minute they are scheduled to depart. A shinkansen once made national news when it departed 20 seconds before it was planned. The exactness of the schedule is appreciated until you miss a shinkansen from a delay from a connecting train. Due to “dangerous conditions on the tracks,” our train taking us to our shinkansen was late by over an hour, making us miss our reserved shinkansen. However, shinkansen traverse the country frequently enough, we only had to wait an hour or so to board a different one.
JR makes it extremely easy to get to the shinkansen. They have a separate area for shinkansen than other JR and subway lines. It is clearly marked, and any station personnel could help direct you to shinkansen. Once in the station, the train number, the time of departure, the destination city, and the track number is displayed on screens when trains are scheduled to depart. This information is in both Japanese and English, making it incredibly easy to understand. Navigating the shinkansen lines is straightforward because there are so few lines, unlike the Tokyo subway system. There’s only a one line going from place to place as opposed to several going to the same station. So instead of having to decide between the Yamanote or Chuo like in Tokyo, you are given a ticket that says Tokyo to Kyoto. If you know what city you’d like to go to, you can easily get there.
All of this makes the shinkansen incredibly easy to use, especially with a JR pass. For a system to be sustainable, not only must it be environmentally friendly, but easy to use. A system could be the greenest system in the country, but if it is difficult to use, people will avoid it, negating the sustainable efforts. Shinkansen combine comfort, convenience, and sustainability making it an optimal transit system.
In terms of transit systems and trains in general, Japan definitely has an upper hand. Technologically, sustainably, and systematically, Japan is one of, if not the world’s leader in efficient transit/train travel. Specifically, in the case of the Shinkansen, Japan’s several bullet trains, this is a system that is truly impressive and trumps many forms of transportation around the world.
Compared to intercity travel in other countries, the Shinkansen is just better in every way frankly. Patrons can be assured that their train will arrive on time with little delay at all and reach the destination at the time listed by the train, unless there is the very minimal chance of an issue on the tracks. The service is timely for sure to say the least, and the customers are comforted by this by not worrying too much on the status or dependability of the train, as they know the Shinkansen is a train they can trust in its management and timeliness. Not to mention this train is super fast and can travel longer distances than your average train enabling easier access to cities across the entire mainland of Japan. Furthermore, their access to the public is very convenient and easy, as there are stations basically every mile around cities or so that you can easily navigate to and through to whatever trains you need. On top of this, the information available to navigate between cities in Japan is very straightforward and easy to understand. This enables both veterans and rookies to the Shinkansen and other train services to simply navigate through the stations and find the correct lines to ride on to get to their destination in a timely manner with a 99.9% guarantee that their train with leave and arrive at the next stop within max a minute of the time posted on the bulletin screens around the train stations.
So, with all this and just neatness and cleanliness of the physical train services and of how the train systems operates, the Shinkansen and other train services in Japan rank among the highest in efficiency compared to the rest of the world. Maybe more people around the world need to come on the program to learn a thing or two to improve other transit systems, maybe like the MARTA, but you know it’s just a thought.
During the trip from Tokyo to Fukushima and back, there were noticeable differences between the development environments varying from urban to rural. There were, of course, no skyscrapers, and the buildings were definitely more spread out. They were, however, not as spacious as they would be back in a typical suburban neighborhood in the United States because of how dense Japan's land is. A lot of rice patties and flourishing vegetation could also be seen from the train window, and the houses outside the Tokyo megaregion take on a more traditional appearance with its curved roofs and rounded tiles. Inside the megaregion, I could easily find many people walking on the streets, but as the train headed towards Fukushima, there were noticeably more people commuting by bike or car that could be seen from afar.
After arriving in Fukushima, we immediately boarded a bus and began our tour to learn more about the incident that struck Eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. Prior to this trip, I thought that most of Fukushima was abandoned with little to no inhabitants and that the only people there are the ones helping with the decommission process, but I was completely wrong. Since the incident, the evacuation order has been slowly lifted from surrounding areas, and several elderlies have returned to live out the rest of their days in their hometown. I was not there to witness the aftermath of the triple threat, but after seeing how far Fukushima has come, it felt like the people had no trouble picking themselves back up after being forced to evacuate their homes eight years ago. Unlike the slow progress in rebuilding areas struck by Hurricane Maria and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Fukushima has already done a lot of work in rebuilding the disaster-stricken areas and decommissioning the Daiichi nuclear power plant. I realized that the people here in Japan, especially in Fukushima, are extremely resilient, due to their cultural values in community and collectiveness. Whereas individualism is highly valued in the United States, the Japanese find the role of the individual as a member of a larger community to be much more important. With community resilience, Fukushima has really made tremendous progress on rebuilding the disaster-stricken areas and decommissioning the Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Considering how our group has only been in Japan for about a week and a half, we have already traveled relatively extensively throughout the country, from Tokyo to Fukushima and now to Kyoto. Despite existing within the same nation, sustainable living conditions can be addressed differently inside and outside of a megaregion, such as in the case of Tokyo versus Fukushima. Sustainable living conditions are even handled in different manners from megaregion to megaregion, which is exemplified by Tokyo of the Greater Tokyo Area compared with Kyoto of Keihanshin. The caliber of Japanese sustainable practices is further exhibited by the resilience demonstrated in the region of Fukushima, which was devastated by an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster in March 2011.
The most notable difference in sustainable living conditions inside and outside of a megaregion is the extent of public transportation. In cities such as Tokyo, the train stations are constantly bustling with activity; it seems as if everyone is in a hurry, and finding oneself lost in a sea of people is far from an uncommon experience. In contrast, the train stations in less-urbanized areas like Fukushima are not nearly as animated as those of Tokyo. This past week, as we traveled from Fukushima through Tokyo to Kyoto, the initial train we boarded was at the very end of the rail line, and we were welcomed by an almost empty train car, which has been a rare privilege for us thus far. Although it’s pleasant to be able to sit in a train car that isn’t packed with people, the fact that less-urbanized areas do not possess Tokyo’s extensive transit system means that people who live in these locations rely more heavily on personal cars than do the residents of larger cities. Therefore, providing more accessible public transportation to people living all throughout Japan may help the nation further itself along the path of sustainability.
Differences in transportation also exist from megaregion to megaregion; in my experience, the transit system of Tokyo was better than that of Kyoto. For starters, I felt that in Kyoto, it was a battle between pedestrians, cyclists, and four-wheeled vehicles over who had the right-of-way on the streets. The narrow streets were not incredibly pedestrian-friendly because the only place where people could walk without being in the middle of the street was in the bike lanes, which were obviously designated for bikes. Even though the streets in Tokyo were narrow as well, I didn’t experience this same issue there because fewer people utilized personal cars. Furthermore, I was not terribly satisfied with the bus system in Kyoto. I didn’t get to experience the bus system in Tokyo, so I can’t attest to its quality in comparison, but I did not find the bus system in Kyoto to be ideal because it took a while for the buses to reach each station. Because the buses did not have their own designated lanes to operate, they got caught in general traffic, which made it more difficult for them to reach each stop in a timely manner. However, if the transit system of Kyoto were to be improved to the level of that of Tokyo, this could lead to more sustainable living conditions in the city by increasing the number of individuals utilizing public transportation.
Aside from Japan’s methods for addressing public transportation, a true testament to the magnitude of Japanese sustainable living conditions is the revitalization that has occurred in the region of Fukushima. After the devastation that happened here in March 2011, the area has taken major strides to ensure that sustainability is its utmost focus, primarily in the realms of renewable energy and education. Because a large amount of the damage experienced by Fukushima was due to a nuclear disaster, the region has switched to developing alternative energy facilities for solar, wind, and hydrogen energy. Land in Japan is precious, with only 14% of it available for both living space and agriculture, and the people of Fukushima have been sure to maximize the amount of land that is available for their use. Extensive solar parks have been constructed to generate energy for use primarily in Tokyo, which is a major source of income for people living in the town of Okuma. In addition to solar parks, Fukushima is also developing facilities to generate energy harnessed from the wind and from hydrogen, which sets a precedent for other regions and countries wishing to pursue sustainable energy production. The most inspiring aspect of Fukushima’s resilience was exhibited by the students of Futaba Mirai High School, who have been working on projects to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals within their own community. Because the notion of sustainability is being ingrained within them at such a young age, this will ensure the creation of a generation who is devoted to the protection of the use of resources for all people, both present and future.
Despite only having a few days to spend in Kyoto, I look forward to coming back to explore more of the city later in the summer, and I am excited that I’ll be able to experience the other two portions of the Keihanshin megaregion, Kobe and Osaka, as well. I’m curious to learn more about how the sustainable living conditions of Keihanshin compare to those of the Greater Tokyo Area, and I hope to find ways in which some practices in one megaregion could be implemented in another. In addition to learning from one another, megaregions can also adopt lessons from Fukushima, who has been able to make tremendous progress in the realm of sustainable development through recovery from a disaster.
After spending a week in Tokyo, it is easy to see the sustainability this mega city has to offer. Tokyo is centered around convenience and efficiency. The transit system is competent, reliable, and accessible. As a primarily English speaker, I could get to and from my destination with ease and comfort. The city itself was neat and orderly. However, as we left Tokyo, the living conditions changed significantly.
While in central Tokyo, the buildings were tall and new. The streets were clean, and the inhabitants always set about with purpose. Even late into the night, I only saw two homeless locals. However, once we left central Tokyo and ventured out of the megaregion, I saw many more impoverished areas. In most countries, the cities are wealthier than the less densely populated regions; Japan was no exception to this. An interesting aspect to this was the only homeless I saw outside of the mega-region were men.
The starkest difference in sustainability inside and outside of the megaregion was the usage of public transit. While in Tokyo, I only traveled by walking and subway. To arrive in Fukushima, we took several trains that quickly moved across the Japanese countryside. This seems to be a common form of transportation; however, residents outside of Tokyo mainly travel by personal motorized vehicles. I saw a significant increase in the number of cars as we traversed from Tokyo to Fukushima. Even in Fukushima, the amount of cars was surprisingly high. With more cars comes more roadways and less railways.
Another common difference in any country when moving from cities to rural areas is the usage of space. In Tokyo, everything was built up or built underground. Space was conserved in any way possible. I don’t recall see any single-story buildings in the city. As we left the city, I began to see buildings with only one floor, although it was still rare. Without the population of the city, people could build more outward than upward. Another benefit of rural space is the option of using renewable energy. Solar fields and wind turbines require large amounts of space to operate. Before the Fukushima disaster, a large amount of Tokyo’s energy was produced by the nuclear power plants. However, after the disaster, the city mainly uses imported gas and coal. With the decommissioning of the nuclear plants, an opportunity has opened in the more rural areas to install renewable energy plants. Fukushima now has solar parks which produce locally harvested electricity in a more sustainable way.
The introduction of solar parks and wind turbines to the Fukushima area speaks to the resilience of the community and the country. To me, resilience is the ability of a community to withstand hardship and rebuild even stronger. Fukushima has acknowledged the disaster that was caused by nuclear energy, and rather than wallowing in the catastrophe, they promote a safer, cleaner form of energy and implement it within a few years. I am hopeful that the number of solar parks will continue to grow in the future. Much of the rural are used to be and somewhat still is used as rice fields. Due to the disaster, the rice produced in Fukushima is 20% below market value in Japan because of the reputation the nuclear meltdown. Perhaps some of those uneconomical rice patties could be converted into solar farms.
Unfortunately, not all of Fukushima’s new infrastructure is an improvement to the community. The radioactivity has caused a large amount of topsoil to be deemed unsafe. Contaminated soil has been gathered into large bags and must be stored for 30+ years. There is no precedent to nuclear meltdown cleanup that Japan is currently facing. They have no model to follow as they try to deal with the consequences. Large buildings and landfills will house the soil for years to come. This is hardly a sustainable solution; yet Japan currently has no better solution.
Traveling from Tokyo to Fukushima has been an edifying experience. The differences between life inside of the megaregion and beyond is very prominent, including the sustainability of the regions. Despite this, the more rural regions of Japan are slowly making efforts to become more sustainable. The cities that were abandoned or destroyed in the disaster now have an opportunity to rebuild in a more positive, sustainable fashion.
On my way from Tokyo to Kyoto, I had the privilege of riding the Shinkansen, the pinnacleof efficient Japanese transportation. This sleek, high-speed vehicle allows for passengers to travel across the country within hours. This particular train provides comfort and convenience that surpass those of trains around the world.
The quality of the Shinkansen is obvious upon first entering it. The interior closely resembles an airplane with overhead space to store luggage, bathrooms for each cart, tables attached to the back of seats, and moveable armrests. However, unlike most planes, the Shinkansen provides plenty of leg room and spacious seats, providing maximal comfort. Even the aisles are wider, allowing staff members to easily move down the train with carts of food for sale. There are also additional amnesties such as outlets for charging phones and laptops. The train itself it extremely fast, moving smoothly at around 250 miles per hour.
The patrons on the vehicle were polite, and volume levels remained low, adhering to the quiet nature of Japanese culture. The timeliness of the Shinkansen was up to par with the rest of trains in Japan. My ticket specified that the train would depart at 5:33 PM, and the train did indeed leave precisely at 5:33. Finding the Shinkansen and accessing the station was not a problem. The Shinkansen was located in the same station as local trains, allowing for convenient transfers. Information was also easily accessible with a screen in the front of the cart with real-time information of upcoming stops. There was also an overhead speaker announcing updates in both Japanese and English.
I have ridden trains in several other countries, but none of them compare to the speed and quality of the Shinkansen. The MARTA train in Atlanta is notorious for being dangerous with its often rowdy passengers. I and the majority of my friends would never take MARTA alone, but in Japan, even elementary school children ride the transit by themselves. It is also extremely difficult to find information on MARTA's schedule, and more often than not, it is more convenient to opt for other modes of transportation. When I visited Europe, I was impressed with its extensive train system that could take me just about anywhere, yet the trains did not maintain the cleanliness that characterizes Japanese trains, and whenever I would travel, I was constantly on alert for pickpocketers. I, however, would have none of those concerns when riding the Shinkansen. In Korea, while it is easy to navigate the transit system, the trains tend to have a noisier atmosphere, and they lack the speed and comfort of the Shinkansen.
While I love traveling, often times traveling long distances can be an excruciating experience. It is insane that Japan is able to provide a train that is able to take you across the country within a couple of hours with comfort levels that far surpass those of an airplane. Technology and innovation have transformed the traveling experience and most definitely have “shrunk” distances. Japan’s Shinkansen lies at the top of these cutting edge technologies, and I’m so glad I was able to experience it first-hand!