I travel quite often on the Shinkansen. It is quite efficient, and is an indispensable infrastructure for the contemporary life of Japan. The safety record of Shinkansen is a marvel.
While relying quite heavily on the sophisticated railroad technologies, I sometimes miss the old days when traveling used to be more relaxed. The old spirit is depicted quite nicely in the wonderfully humorous essay "Idiot Train" by Hyakken Uchida. I made a blog entry . on this topic on December 29th, 2006.
I reproduce here my own translations of the Idiot Train posted on that day.
I call this trip idiot train because people would say so behind my back anyway. Needless to say, I myself do not consider this undertaking to be that of an idiot. To be honest, you don't need a reason to go somewhere. I don't have any reason in particular to do so, but I have made up my mind to go to Osaka on the train.
As I do not have any particular reason to make this trip, it is ridiculous to travel second or third class. Traveling first class is always the best. At the age of 50, I made up my mind to always travel first class. In spite of my determination, I might be obliged to travel third class when I have no money and yet have some specific reason to make the trip. But I would never travel second class, which is irritatingly ambiguous. I don't like the appearances of people traveling in a second class coach.
"I would like to go to Osaka."
"Ah, that is a good idea."
"So I came to see you on this matter."
"Is it an urgent business?"
"No. I don't have any particular reason, but I think I will go any way."
"Are you going to stay there for some time?"
"No. I think I will return immediately. Depending on the circumstances, I might even come back on the night train as soon as I arrive at Osaka."
"What do you mean depending on the circumstances?"
"Depending on how much travel money I have. If I have sufficient money, I will come back immediately. If I don't have enough, I might stay in Osaka for one night."
"I don't quite understand you."
"On the contrary, everything is clear. I have considered the matter with great care."
"Is that so?"
"Anyway, can you lend me some money?"
That's the spirit.
Life is not very much fun if everything becomes efficient and logical. And the wise and sensitive will find that there is as much hidden logic and efficiency in Uchida's superficially idiosyncratic ways of seeing the world as in a report by a MBA.
Perhaps much more.