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Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World's First Bullet Train

Author/EditorAbel, Jessamyn (Author)
ISBN: 9781503629943
Pub Date11/01/2022
BindingPaperback
Pages304
Dimensions (mm)229(h) * 152(w)
How the various, often contradictory, images of the Tokaido Shinkansen prompted a reimagination of identity on the levels of individual, metropolis, and nation in a changing Japan.
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A symbol of the "new Japan" displayed at World's Fairs, depicted in travel posters, and celebrated as the product of a national spirit of innovation, the Tokaido Shinkansen-the first bullet train, dubbed the "dream super-express"-represents the bold aspirations of a nation rebranding itself after military defeat, but also the deep problems caused by the unbridled postwar drive for economic growth. At the dawn of the space age, how could a train become such an important symbol? In Dream Super-Express, Jessamyn Abel contends that understanding the various, often contradictory, images of the bullet train reveals how infrastructure operates beyond its intended use as a means of transportation to perform cultural and sociological functions. The multi-layered dreams surrounding this high-speed railway tell a history not only of nation-building but of resistance and disruption. Though it constituted neither a major technological leap nor a new infrastructural connection, the train enchanted, enthralled, and enraged government officials, media pundits, community activists, novelists, and filmmakers. This history of imaginations around the monumental rail system resists the commonplace story of progress to consider the tug-of-war over the significance of the new line. Is it a vision of the future or a reminder of the past, an object of international admiration or a formidable threat? Does it enable new relationships and identities or reify existing social hierarchies? Tracing the meanings assigned to high-speed rail shows how it prompted a reimagination of identity on the levels of individual, metropolis, and nation in a changing Japan.

A symbol of the "new Japan" displayed at World's Fairs, depicted in travel posters, and celebrated as the product of a national spirit of innovation, the Tokaido Shinkansen-the first bullet train, dubbed the "dream super-express"-represents the bold aspirations of a nation rebranding itself after military defeat, but also the deep problems caused by the unbridled postwar drive for economic growth. At the dawn of the space age, how could a train become such an important symbol? In Dream Super-Express, Jessamyn Abel contends that understanding the various, often contradictory, images of the bullet train reveals how infrastructure operates beyond its intended use as a means of transportation to perform cultural and sociological functions. The multi-layered dreams surrounding this high-speed railway tell a history not only of nation-building but of resistance and disruption. Though it constituted neither a major technological leap nor a new infrastructural connection, the train enchanted, enthralled, and enraged government officials, media pundits, community activists, novelists, and filmmakers. This history of imaginations around the monumental rail system resists the commonplace story of progress to consider the tug-of-war over the significance of the new line. Is it a vision of the future or a reminder of the past, an object of international admiration or a formidable threat? Does it enable new relationships and identities or reify existing social hierarchies? Tracing the meanings assigned to high-speed rail shows how it prompted a reimagination of identity on the levels of individual, metropolis, and nation in a changing Japan.

Jessamyn R. Abel is a historian of Japan and Associate Professor in Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University. She is the author of The International Minimum(2015).

Contents and AbstractsIntroduction: Dreams of Infrastructure chapter abstractThis book tells a cultural history of Japan's first bullet train, the Tokaido Shinkansen, viewing its significance within 1960s Japan in terms of the aesthetic power it exerted as a technologically advanced infrastructural project. Views of the new line were formed in relation to the specific historical contexts of rapid economic and industrial growth, expansion of communications and transportation infrastructure, changes in Japan's international position, revision of views about the wartime past, and a growing culture of grassroots protest. 1Invisible Infrastructures of Protest in Kyoto chapter abstractThis chapter considers the bullet train planning process, focusing on two opposing positions in a story of intersecting battles surrounding its route. The Kyoto leadership pressed JNR to change its initial route bypassing the city as part of their effort to create a new metropolitan image by adding a sheen of global modernity to its reputation as a repository of history and tradition. On the other hand, those whose communities were destroyed, families evicted, or businesses ruined by the construction of the tracks through the city challenged JNR's rhetoric of the bullet train as an important project bringing national benefits in order to question the structures of democracy in Japan, joining a broader struggle to gain a greater voice for citizens and bolster the power of the individual against state and corporate forces. 2Reconstructing the Tokaido chapter abstractThis chapter considers debates among urban planners, general public discourse, and popular culture featuring the bullet train to explain its function in the social construction of space. Such a perspective highlights the relationship between ideas and infrastructure and sheds light on the dynamics of power over space, including changes not only to physical urban forms but also in the ways that people understood the cities on the line. The bullet train raised issues such as centralization, cultural homogenization versus diversity, and the tension between development and preservation. 3Railroad for the Information Society chapter abstractThis chapter situates the bullet train within socioeconomic changes of the 1960s and early 1970s, identified at the time as a transformation from an industrial to an information society. Views of the bullet train in terms of information highlight two questions about the emerging information society: urban planners emphasized the new line's impact on information flows, considering how that could be used as a form of social control, while producers of cultural materials were concerned with the issue of inequality and used the idea of unequal access to information as a form of social critique in semifictional stories about the planning, construction, and early operation of the line. Through such debates and depictions, the new line became a flashpoint that people used to grapple with the problems accompanying ongoing changes and envision a better future. 4Nostalgia for Imperial Japan chapter abstractThis chapter brings the former empire into view with a quick glance backward in time in order to understand the place of nostalgia and memory in the story of the bullet train. It examines two rail systems of the 1930s and 1940s not to tell a continuous narrative but rather to build a foundation for understanding the wartime memories inspired by the bullet train. Two symbolically important wartime trains-the South Manchurian Railway Company's Asia Express and the original "bullet train," a planned (but never realized) express train between Tokyo and Shimonoseki-were the subjects of a 1960s surge of nonfiction reminiscences and fictional stories, which connected the present to a sanitized past. This comparison shows how the promise of high-speed rail was drawn into the construction of public memory of war and empire. 5Technology of Cultural Diplo

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