Japan’s first bullet trains, 1964.
When it began service 50 years ago last October, the world’s first high-speed commercial rail line, Tokaido Shinkansen, revolutionized travel on Japan’s most densely populated island. Two inaugural bullet trains ( dangan ressha) made the 515-kilometer journey between Tokyo to Osaka in just four hours—two hours faster than a regular train. And that was just the start for the Shinkansen. Today, the network stretches some 2,400 kilometers, from the top of Honshu to Kyushu in the southwest. Pictured above are passengers in a 0- series bullet train, the first model to run on the Tokaido line starting in 1964. An estimated 10 billion people have since ridden Japan’s high-speed rails, and at ever-faster speeds. From the 210 kmh clocked by the 0- series, Shinkansen trains can now reach up to 320 kmh, though even that will seem a snail’s pace once the planned Chuo Shinkansen maglev line opens by 2027. Connecting Tokyo with Nagoya, it’s designed to run at a maximum 505 kmh, though without the benefit of scenery: most of the line will be underground.