Award-Winning Homage to Trains

Japan was the first country to really have significant high-speed railway technology, when the 0 series Shinkansen (which in English was called the “bullet train” because of its speed and shape) came out in 1964. The demand to move people between cities like Tokyo and Osaka drove the engineers to connect the country via trains, and the slow-moving versions just weren’t doing it. Flash forward today, and virtually everywhere is connected by trains in Japan. They’re fast, safe, and pretty much considered the gold standard of train technology among other nations, many of which are using Japanese technology as a model. But despite the fact that most trains connect us from one end of the nation to the other, the southern region of Japan, Kyushu, has only been connected by shinkansen this year. There was even a great commercial made for its debut, but practically no one had heard of it. Why? Because it aired at the same time as the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake.

In fact, if I hadn’t seen it randomly on Tofugu, I would have missed it myself. In what is apparently being called the “world’s biggest wave,” tens of thousands of people ran alongside the new train, as a camera shot their excitement. As the train flies over the tracks, you can see the scale and enormity of the endeavor. Watch the video below:

The line opened on the day of the earthquake, so it was basically pulled immediately. Not only would it not have gotten any air time (for the early days after the quake, it was disaster coverage 24-7 on every channel on TV), but it would have probably been disrespectful, considering how everyone was happily celebrating. But oddly enough, despite the commercial being made prior to the disasters, it turns out to be an interesting means of uniting the country – as trains do in the first place.

Trains were in general considered to be (though people didn’t think so at the time) one of the safest places to be inside, at the time of the March 11 quakes – at least in terms of earthquake protection. Earthquakes result in two types of seismic waves that travel through the earth, “P” (primary) waves and “S” (secondary) waves. P waves travel quickly, and are not very harmful. Trains all over the country are given warnings when they receive P waves, which is what happened on March 11 up to 30 seconds before the quakes began, usually yielding enough time to begin bringing them to a halt. S waves are slower waves (see the animation below to compare), but they are the ones that cause all the damage. The greater the distance from the epicenter, the earlier the earthquake sends its warning.

In fact, any four geographically distinct readings can allow us to narrow down the time and location of an epicenter. Schools, trains, homes, offices, and anyone with the appropriate cellphone applications will get these advanced warnings. The problem on March 11, however, was that trains were halted for hours, leaving passengers stranded wherever they stopped. This is one reason why I always carry extra food on me.

But as several Australian members of parliament noted when they had been stuck on a train because of the quakes, everyone there was still calm. Evidently, even strangers on the trains were thinking of what would be best for everyone and not freaking out or causing problems. This phenomenon of being a part of the group is perfectly portrayed in this new bullet-train commercial. In the last few moments of the commercial, the narrator says “On that day, thank you for waving. Thank you for smiling. Thank you for uniting.” Becoming one united group is the same message we have been hearing for almost five months in Japan, in a different context. I will describe this in greater detail in a later post, but this expression of unity just adds to the beauty of it. [Update: That later post is here]

And I’m not the only one who liked it. The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival awarded this commercial with a gold prize. It’s clever, and Japan is the perfect place for a job like that. The fact that it got an award sure makes people hold the commercial in higher esteem, but we can appreciate it regardless of whether it won an award or not.

It’s in this light-hearted spirit that I share a few artistic train-themed drawings, which are anime-styled pictures created by “Vania600.” Enjoy! Sure wish I could draw like that.


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