Rick and Maurice Join an International HSR Celebration

People boarding a high-speed train in Japan.

Today was a special day in the high speed rail world. On this day, a special conference was held in Tokyo, Japan, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen. This event was organized by the International High Speed Rail Association, Central Japan Railway Company, West Japan Railway Company, and Kyushu Railway Company, with support from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The all-day event was held in Ascot Hall, South Wing, of the glamorous Hotel Okura, in Tokyo, Japan. The day was gloomy and rainy outside. But inside Hotel Okura, Ascot Hall shimmered with a technical visual display and circumstance unlike anything that few will ever get to witness. For Rick and myself, this conference was arguably the highlight of our trip to Japan. Following a quick hotel breakfast, Rick and I hailed a cab to the event to avoid the walk in the rain. Upon arrival to the hotel, we entered through the main entrance joining other arriving guests. Conference guides were everywhere directing arriving guests to the lower level of the hotel for the event.

The event felt regal, yet business professional, with guests decked in black suit, white shirt, and tie for the men and formal dress for the ladies. Upon receipt of our registration materials (a beautifully designed program binder and stately multi-color pen), we proceeded to enter Ascot Hall. What we saw before us was a beautifully arranged hall, with carefully positioned professional work tables and chairs facing a wide low rise stage in the front of the audience seating and news press stage in the back of the audience seating. And behind the stage was the largest video display screen I have ever seen outside of a Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field. The screen was at least 60 meters wide and a height of a 2 story building. It was mesmerizing and captivating. The display screen itself would have clearly stolen the show if it wasn’t for the hypnotizing high speed rail animation/imagery on the screen.

And if the beautiful display arrangement did not capture your attention, the accompanying surround sound system was the finishing touch that completed the sea of sound and imagery.  Rick and I were quite impressed with this visual and audio production and only heightened our anticipation of the spectacular commemorative program that was to come. Conference guides led us to our seats, which was in the very front row.  I have to admit, our seat location was perfect. At each seat was a wireless audio device for listening to Japanese/English audio translation during the program. Attendance was just under 300.  However, it felt more like three times as many.

The program began with a spectacular high speed rail video presentation highlighting the Shinkansen high speed train concept in a timeline format, beginning with its inception in 1964 through its development to today, in 2014. Following the video presentation, an opening address was given by Kouei Tsuge, President of Central Japan Railway Company, welcoming the audience to the 50th anniversary celebration and commemoration.

Following the opening address, a keynote lecture was given by Masafumi Shukui, Chairman of the International High Speed Rail Association. Throughout the morning, were three amazing sessions; with session one being a presentation on the development history of Japanese High Speed Rail, followed by Session two with a panel discussion on the development of high speed rail in the world, its challenges and its future. And finally, a mesmerizing presentation on Superconducting MagLev was given on creating a new future and building a new society.

The presentations were awesome and inspiring. The lectures were thought provoking and left you wantingmore. There was lunch at noon which was in a nearby ballroom. The menu was chef prepared and fitting for the occasion. The program drew to a close with closing remarks from Yoshiyuki Kasai, Chairman Emeritus of the Central Japan Railway Company, followed by a closing greeting from Seiji Manabe, President of West Japan Railway Company.

The program was enjoyable and memorable, an experience I will not soon forget. However, no program of such glamour and circumstance would have been complete without a closing anniversary dinner. To think that the conference program could not be topped would be a clear misstatement. The closing dinner was held in the beautifully prestigious Banquet Room Heian of Hotel Okura. The banquet hall was beautifully arranged, fitting for the occasion of regal, ceremonial guests. The banquet hall was illuminated by a second video screen and surround sound system of equal size and grandeur as in the Ascot Hall.

Seating arrangement was carefully organized and documented in a small detailed booklet given to each guest. Rick and I did not sit together as this was not the arrangement in the detail booklet. The dinner menu was immaculate and 5 star quality. The dinner started off with a brilliant high speed rail video animation/display, more mesmerizing than the earlier display during the earlier conference program. There was a brief celebratory program led by Kouei Tsuge, with a delicate video display background of falling leaves animation imagery taken from the beautiful forests of Kyushu, Japan. During the diner, Rick and I met and mingled with our table guests, passed and received more business cards. (I noticed that the passing and receiving of business cards was probably the most important unspoken activity of this entire professional event.) After the dinner, Rick and I hailed a cab back to our hotel, noticing that outside was still rainy and dreary from the morning. However, we had not noticed the inclemency of the weather, as we were captured in a full event filled day of high speed rail spectacle, not to be soon forgotten.

Maurice Ball is a board member of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

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