Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Roaming Around Japan: The Evangelion Shinkansen

The next set of posts about my travels will be mostly anime related, which is fine I guess as this blog mostly deals with that. For my last trip to Japan, I started in Fukuoka because I hadn’t been there before. I was planning to see a couple things like Mount Aso and the Ultraman theme park, but volcanic eruptions and the closure of the park due to poor ticket sales put an end to that. I still did manage to see a bunch of other interesting stuff in Kyushu regardless. Before I left for Japan I heard about the 500 Type Evangelion Shinkansen. This was a specially pained and outfitted Shinkansen that would be in operation from November 2015 to March 2017. It was to celebrate two things; the 40th anniversary of the completion of the Sanyo Shinkansen line which runs from Hakata station in Fukuoka to Shin-Osaka station, and the 20th anniversary of the anime “Evangelion”.

This of course begs the question why, and the answer is I have no idea. You’ll have to ask Japan Rail (JR) and/or Hideaki Anno why. At any rate I figured out from the Japanese website that the Shinkansen left Hakata station around 6:36 am and got to my next port of call, Hiroshima, at 8:16 am (not exactly the fastest trip for a Shinkansen) and decided why not as I had a JR Rail Pass for three weeks. I got the ticket from the Midori-no-madoguchi at Hakata station on the first day I arrived in Fukuoka thinking that it’d be difficult to get on. It wasn’t. Amusingly when I asked the attended if that was indeed the time the Evangelion Shinkansen left and I had bought the right ticket, she feigned ignorance. Bloody gaijin otaku, stop bothering the staff! Even before you get on the train, JR’s hard sell begins with a gift shop;

There’s a lot of crap for sale here. I mean seriously does the world really need more Evangelion merchandise? I did actually buy something though… A travel card holder (i.e. to hold cards like Suica, Opal, myki etc);

The day finally came around to go to Hiroshima. I quickly took a photo of the front of the train and got on board;

The kid posing in the photo was put there by his father who was taking a photo of him next to the train. Actually there were quite a few people on the platform not getting on the train but instead taking photos. Though the crowd was small there was a lot of excitement in the air. People loved it. I should point out the outside of the train and the interior details were designed by Ikuto Yamashita who was the mecha designer for Evangelion. Hideaki Anno supervised the project. The train itself starts at Hakata station at 6:36 am stopping pretty much at all stations until it gets to Shin-Osaka at 11:14 am. Half an hour later it then turns around and heads back to Hakata station for the afternoon run. Except for two of the cars, all of them are your bog standard 500 series Shinkansen cars. Car one contains the "Full-size Cockpit Riding Experience” which is a kind of mock-up of the EVA-01 cockpit and is a sort of immersive game. You have to apply online at the JR West website in order to play. There are also displays and dioramas and whatnot, which I didn’t know about and didn’t actually go into unfortunately.

Car two is the non-reserved seat section and is actually done up in a Evangelion theme and colours;

There was only a couple of passengers in this section when I went on. Fans were constantly coming in and taking photos much to the disgust of a lone salary man in the front who just wanted to get to his destination for a business meeting. The second car also contains the smoking room;

As you can see one side of the enclosed glass smoking area has a picture of Ryouji Kaji and at the other Ritsuko Akagi, the two smokers from the show. There was a young woman in her 20’s (whom I would definitely not peg as an otaku type) with her boyfriend in the car while I was taking photos who kept pointing to the picture of Ritsuko and excitedly kept saying “Rit-chan! Rit-chan!”. At every station the Shinkansen stopped at there was a flurry of excited fans on the platform taking photos. This happened at every single station without fail. The fans loved it. I was really surprised at the ages of those had come. Some weren’t even born when the series was first broadcast. I can only assume that mixed in with the anime fans were a number of railway and train enthusiasts. In general the Japanese public just adore trains.

Bonus: Above is a JR West mascot character that you’ll see at every major train station in Kyushu; Kansenger (in cardboard cut-out form at least). He’s sort of like a metal hero type mascot for the Sanyo line Shinkansen who appears in a series poorly animated series where a mild mannered train attendant transforms into Kansenger to fight an evil organisation hell bent on making life hell for JR passengers. You can see the series on the JR West website here.

Next time in my travels I’ll be heading off to Utsunomiya in Tochigi prefecture.

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