JR Tokai to Mark Shinkansen’s 60th Anniversary with Special Tours; Employee Shares Special Connection, Memories of Train Line

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Satoshi Ito, a Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) employee, is seen on a platform for the Tokaido Shinkansen line at JR Tokyo Station.

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) is planning to hold special tours in collaboration with other companies, which are also celebrating anniversaries, to commemorate the Tokaido Shinkansen high-speed railway’s 60th anniversary this autumn.

The Tokaido Shinkansen line started operations on Oct. 1, 1964, nine days ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Nicknamed “the superexpress train of our dreams,” the service initially ran between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka stations and took about four hours one way. The travel time has now been reduced to about 2½ hours, and the line has carried about 6.8 billion passengers to date.

“We’ll do our best to make our customers happy with our Shinkansen during this milestone year,” said Satoshi Ito, a JR Tokai project manager tasked with planning tours and events to mark the anniversary.

Special connection

When he was a child, Ito used to ride the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya to visit his grandparents during his vacations.

“I was able to see my grandpa and grandma if I rode the Shinkansen,” said Ito, now 41. “I was always excited, and the Shinkansen was so special to me.”

He said that whenever he arrived at Nagoya Station, his smiling grandparents were waiting for him on the platform.

Ito started working for JR Tokai in 2005, hoping to eventually work on urban development projects centering on train services. When he worked as a Shinkansen conductor in the summer of his first year with the company, his grandparents were able to ride on the train he was in charge of. He said it was a memorable experience.

Ito said he was not able to speak with them on the train, as he was on duty, but he gave them a nod when he saw them boarding.

“I was happy that they were able to see me working [as a conductor],” Ito said.

He then worked as a Shinkansen driver and a Tokyo Station staff before being transferred to the Tokyo office’s public relations department in 2017. When the pandemic began in 2020, he was put in charge of promoting the Tokaido Shinkansen’s N700S series model, which was to debut in July that year.

Many Shinkansen trains ran with empty or nearly empty cars, and Ito was stunned to find out that the number of passengers during the Golden Week holidays in 2020 dropped 94% compared to the previous year.

Ito started working at his current office in July 2020. Desperate to increase the number of passengers, he tried to come up with various tours with his colleagues. Some of the tour packages that were put together avoided peak hours and crowded tourist spots. Others had themes travelers might be interested in, such as anime or food. Ito felt a deep sense of satisfaction that the number of people who applied to go on the tours exceeded the limit by more than seven times.

“There have been many hardships,” Ito said. “But the company is definitely more determined to take on challenges.”

The Tokaido Shinkansen is expected to welcome even more passengers throughout the year to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Ito’s team is working on developing special tours and commemorative souvenirs in collaboration with other companies, which are also celebrating their anniversaries. He hopes to begin selling them in spring or later. The team is also planning to hold events promoting various areas along the Shinkansen line.

“I hope the Shinkansen will continue to affect people’s lives,” he said.

Various celebrations

Toy maker Tomy Co., which was founded on Feb. 2, 1924, will release limited-edition versions of its Pop-up Pirate and the Tomica miniature car series — two of the company’s signature products — starting in April to commemorate its 100th anniversary.

In addition, to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Plarail — Tomy’s line of toy trains — the company will release a Plarail set of the E8 series of the Yamagata Shinkansen on March 16, the same day East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) will inaugurate it.

“Through invention and using our playful minds, we have created new forms of play,” a Tomy official said. “We will keep working hard so that we will continue to be loved and remain a company that is valued by society for the next 100 years.”

Sanrio Co. is celebrating Hello Kitty’s 50th birthday by showcasing on its website the first items featuring the beloved character and its various products for the half-century, as well as changes in the character’s design. A Hello Kitty mascot has also been making appearances at various Sanrio stores on a nationwide tour.

In another industry, Tokyo Prince Hotel is set to re-create the menu from when the hotel first opened to mark its 60th anniversary.