Jessamyn AbelJun 2, 2022
A Cultural History of the World's First Bullet Train
Stanford University Press 2022
Jessamyn Abel’s Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World’s First Bullet Train (Stanford UP, 2022) is a history of Japan’s famous super-express (shinkansen) and “the bullet train imaginary.” In other words, it is both a history of infrastructure and mobility on the one hand, and a cultural and social history of the ways that the train was planned, interpreted, and built up as a symbol of a new Japan both at home and in the world on the other. The bullet train transformed the speed and volume of the flows of people and information across Japan, and became the embodiment of a dawning information society and a national brand. But it was also an agent of destruction for communities in its way; a source of anxiety for artists, activists, and others; and an object of nostalgia for those who connected it to Japan’s imperial past. While triumphalism eventually became hegemonic in public narratives about the shinkansen, Abel unearths the tensions, conflicts, and concerns often drowned out in the “monumentalization” of the bullet train as Japan’s Dream Super-Express.
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese language and history in the University of Bergen's Department of Foreign Languages.