Dream Super Express: A Cultural History of the World’s First Bullet-Train - A talk with Professor Jessamyn R. Abel from Pennsylvania State University

Touted as a symbol of the "new Japan” when it opened in 1964, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen—the first bullet train, dubbed the "dream super-express"—represents the bold aspirations of a nation rebranding itself after military defeat, but also the deep problems caused by the unbridled postwar drive for economic growth. Understanding the various, often contradictory, images of the bullet train shows how infrastructure operates beyond its intended use as a means of transportation to perform cultural and sociological functions and reveals the tug-of-war over the significance of the new line that is often hidden by commonplace stories of progress. This talk will trace contrasting meanings assigned to high-speed rail in order to find the ways in which it prompted a reimagination of identity on the levels of individual, metropolis, and nation in a changing Japan. 


Jessamyn R. Abel is College of the Liberal Arts Endowed Fellow, Associate Professor in the Asian Studies Department, and Affiliated Faculty of the School of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University. She is a historian of modern Japan with interests in democratization, technology, infrastructure, sports, and international relations. Her recently published book, Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World’s First Bullet Train, views the 1960s through the window of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. Her first book, The International Minimum: Creativity and Contradiction in Japan’s Global Engagement, 1933-1964, examines the transwar development of Japanese internationalism.  Other publications include articles on the bullet train, technology, the Tokyo Olympics, cultural diplomacy, textbooks, and the history of whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her current research focuses on postwar Japan to examine the process of democratization through infrastructures of daily life.


Sponsored by: Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS)

Monday, February 12 at 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Meyerson Conference Room, WCH 4.118

Event Type

Academics, World & Culture


All Departments

Target Audience

Students, Faculty



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