The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Train-spotting

 Have not been doing a lot lately, the commitments of a family and getting a driving licence have kept me too busy to get on the computer much at all.  

Yes I am, apparently less of a man because I am learning to drive at 36 and I dislike it. Not that I don’t understand driving is useful, it is but it is also rather unneeded in the world, there are too many cars already and too many drivers. So why am I adding to it? Well my wife insists and she does all the driving in the family at the moment so I guess she has cause. But as I look around Tokyo I just see too many roads already and this in a city where the train system, even if uncomfortably crowded, is world class. Cheap, punctual, clean and safe it is completely unnecessary to drive here.  

I am not a train person per se please don’t think that, I can take or leave the passion with which a particular train is viewed by the experts. I do not get excited by steam, or the sound of a diesel shunter. I do not wax lyrical on the beauty of a particular famous engine or luxury of a particular line. I am indifferent to locomotion in other words. Except… 

Okay get me my anorak now because I admit I do like bullet trains. Known as Shinkansen here, these extremely fast, high tech and let’s face it often beautiful trains are dead sexy. Now I should be talking about sexy cars as I’m on my way to a licence, indeed an instructor asked me the other day what car I was going to buy when I passed and was rather non-plussed when I said I didn’t care. Japanese men are incredibly macho about driving, even if they drive a twinky little Honda mini-van, it has a spoiler. Thank god fluffy-dice haven’t caught on here. Me, I care not at all about cars, beyond a passing soft spot for MGs I only want a car that allows me to stick camera and climbing gear in the back and go somewhere safely and cheaply. That’s why I like Shinkansen, they are fast, sexy and still safe. It takes an earthquake to knock one of its tracks as happened a couple of years ago. And this was the first EVER recorded accident with a Shinkansen. So much so that it made the news for weeks. 

I have only been on the bullet trains a couple of times and truth be told the experience is so smooth and comfortable that it is disappointingly boring. Even as you glide along at 300kms/h you are so cocooned in efficiency and stillness that such seat of the pants speed seems well…dull. Nothing is left to chance of course, safety in Japan must be assured with constant information. Shinkansen toilets have no less than 20 signs telling you the name and use of each and every fixture. Then just in case you didn’t or couldn`t see them the instructions are repeated on a large brail sign on the door. Constant messages, in nicely accented English, tell you everything else and serious men in smart uniforms salute you rather unnervingly as they check your tickets  

No the real fun of shinkansen-spotting is being on the platform as a Nozomi JR500 rockets passed. The sound and blur of motion is so mind-blowing it is as if a comet just flew by, oh the speed, the speed! This is my favourite shinkansen, it looks like a missile; has a cockpit more than a cab and is quite simply the best looking train ever designed. Okay I didn’t have much to say because I`m busy with un-photographic life so this is just words to tell you some of my brain activity at the moment and show you a picture of a bullet train of course. I have to go and be fitted for my anorak now. Talk to you later.

Damon  

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