My Rough Guide to Japan tells me that the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata was the most expensive train track in the world to build. It cost some 6 billion yen per kilometer and about one third of the journey is through tunnels.
Built by LDP pork-barrel legend Tanaka Kakuei, the bullet train line runs through the 1972-1974 PM’s Niigata heartlands. To me it’s a symbol of all Japan hopes to leave behind with the recent election. I was up there earlier this year and took this picture of the late Tanaka’s statue outside Urasa station. The Economist calls him “an astonishingly corrupt politician”.
Tanaka’s railway was less a way to transport Tokyoites to Niigata than a way to funnel government money back to his constituents. He built hulking Shinkansen stations in sleepy rice farming villages which would probably be lucky to see one local train an hour.
The waiting room at Urasa wasn’t exactly packed:
Nor the platform.
Not much work for taxi drivers outside the station.
Some traffic at last!
Have we seen the back of Tanaka style politics? I’m not holding my breath. The first thing I saw on the TV the morning after the election was a beaming Tanaka Makiko, Kakuei’s daughter. She’s now a DPJ politician.
Up in Niigata I heard a rumour that she was responsible for the canopy over Tanaka’s statue.