Designer trains add to joy of traveling in Japan
YOICHIRO HIROI, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Japanese trains are sporting unique looks to entertain their passengers.
East Japan railway, the main railroad operator in eastern Japan, introduced a new shinkansen bullet train on April 29 on the route between Niigata and Echigo-Yuzawa, mainly for use on weekends and holidays. The special train, with only six coaches, features contemporary Japanese works of art. Seven artists and an art unit were involved in the design, including photographer and film director Mika Ninagawa, who designed the train's exterior, inspired by famous fireworks in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.
The railroad company has spent about 500 million yen ($4.66 million) to decorate the E3 series train coaches. During the 50-minute journey, passengers can tour the coaches to enjoy different interiors and art.
The eye-catching yellow patterns of the seats and floor in the first coach are part of a design by Nao Matsumoto based on the theme of rich harvests and festivals. The patterns look like rice stalks waiting to be picked up, or animals. As the train emerges from a dark tunnel, a window screen was dyed yellow by reflected sunlight. "It was an exciting adventure to collaborate with businesses to make a contemporary art piece," Matsumoto said.
In the other five coaches, passengers can walk around or sit on sofas to enjoy works of art on the walls and elsewhere.
The art of the moving museum is only complete when the train runs, said Yusuke Komuta, another one of the artists. Komuta filled the wall of the second coach with a number of mirror tiles so that the pieces reflect both passengers and the landscape outside. As the train runs at 210kph, the passengers can enjoy watching the contrast between the moving landscapes and themselves standing still.
Local commuter lines are also attempting to lure passengers with unique designs. Sotetsu Holdings operates the Sagami Railway route, known as the Sotetsu line, in Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo. In early April, the company introduced new trains painted entirely in navy blue, reminiscent of the sea. The shiny, deep-blue surfaces reflect the surrounding landscape, creating different impressions during the day and at night.
The lighting inside changes depending on the time of day. A whitish color is used during morning hours, and a warmer tone is used in the evening. Box seats are covered with genuine leather to add a feeling of luxury.
The train's makeover was motivated by concern about losing passengers. A survey conducted in the past revealed that more than 80% of Tokyo residents were not familiar with the Sotetsu line. The local line now plans to link with several others, operated by JR and Tokyu, by 2019. This will allow the local train operator to extend its coverage to Tokyo.
President Hidekazu Hayashi said the company wanted an impressive design that would make people recognize Sotetsu's trains.
Seibu Railway is also working on new express trains to be introduced in fiscal 2018. Kazuyo Sejima, the architect in charge of the design, said she hopes to create a means of transportation that coexists with its surroundings. In addition to a capsule-like round nose, she plans to use aluminum materials that will reflect the surrounding scenery, making the trains appear as part of the landscape.