April 26, 2012

All aboard

The one modern thing that particularly catches Ryô's attention in chapter 24 of Serpent of Time is the commuter train.

An interesting detail in the 1908 map I used to chart Ryô's escape from Sakai is the railroad running along the Kino River. A mere fifty years after Commodore Perry presented the Japanese government with a scale model steam train, rail lines covered all the routes of the Edo Period highways, including spurs reaching into relatively outlying areas such as the Kii Peninsula.

In the century since, train technology in Japan went from the model 2-4-0 tank locomotive:

Courtesy Tony Hisgett.

to this:

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Japanese embraced the train as enthusiastically as Americans did the automobile. Even today, every roll-out of a new Shinkansen model is given the red carpet treatment. A big reason is that the population distribution, density, and geography are perfect fits for rail. A single north-south line neatly intersects every major city in Japan without a single detour.

Japan National Railways decommissioned the last steam engine at the Oiwake switching yard in Hokkaido on March 2, 1976. As in the U.S., steam engines still carry tourist on reserved routes.

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