Now this is art that truly takes you places. Touted as "the world’s fastest art experience," the high-speed Genbi Shinkansen opened last month on the Jōetsu Shinkansen railway line.
Set to run three round trips daily on most Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, the bullet train not only zips between Echigo-Yuzawa, Urasa, Nagaoka, Tsubame-Sanjo, and Niigata Stations in Niigata Prefecture at maximum speeds of up to 210km/h but is also pretty quick at delivering Japanese contemporary art right to commuters — specially created for the Genbi Shinkansen by prominent contemporary artists — on the ride itself.
Admission to this unusual art gallery is capped at 107, thanks to the 107 seating capacity of the train. Never mind the seats though — one suspects passengers would rather wander around the train to view the in-train art.
The entire train body, for instance, is wrapped up in the abstract-like beauty of Nagaoka fireworks against the summer night sky. The visuals are the photographic works of Japanese director and photographer Mika Ninagawa.
Seven teams of artists, including Ninagawa, worked on transforming each car of the six-car train. All the windows on one side of cars No. 12 through No. 16 were sealed to serve as an interrupted canvas.
Inside the train, Haruka Kojin's whimsical 11-meter long floral installation created with imitation flower petals brighten up the interiors of car No. 15, while mixed-media artist Yusuke Komuta's large-scale mirrored stainless=steel installation in car No. 12 lets commuters check themselves out while traveling at high speed.
Photographer Naoki Ishikawa's “Kata to Satoyama” pictures of Niigata are displayed in car No. 14 amidst lounge-like settings with cushy sofas.
For the reservation-only car No. 11, sculptor Nao Matsumoto reworked the entire space — from its seats and carpet to the curtains — around the theme of harvests, festivity, and light. Brian Alfred's car No. 16 comes with five liquid-crystal screens that play a 15-minute animation by him that shows off the beauty and geography of Niigata in its full glory.
Come to Paramodel's car No. 13, and one sees the space converted into a playground for kids. Known for incorporating play into their works, the art duo comprising Yasuhiko Hayashi and Yusuke Nakano let children experience art freely with plenty of Plarail toys scattered around (Plarail is an iconic toy train and track series by Japanese toy manufacturer Tomy dating back to the late ’50s) against the backdrop of a blue and white Plarail-themed installation.
The two observed of their work for the Genbi Shinkansen: "The train car, which is usually a boring space for most kids, will turn into a fun play spot for them... This interaction with modern art in a place unlike anything before will likely create an experience and a way of enjoying art that are completely different from any museum of the past."
Also at car No. 13 is its in-train café that offers local sweet treats such as vanilla cake made with Uonuma-grown rice, Sado butter financier and Sado cream cheese lemon cake. Coffee by Tsubame Coffee, a popular local coffee shop in Tsubame-Sanjo, Niigata, is also available here. Kentaro Kobuke's colorful pencil drawings of Joetsu scenery are displayed on the walls of the café.
For all its uniqueness, the Genbi Shinkansen is not the first unconventional railway train to emerge from the East Japan Railway Company. Two years ago, the latter launched a foodies' dream train with the gastronomy-themed Tohoku Emotion on JR Hachinohe Line along Sanriku Coast in Northeast Japan.
The unusual Genbi Shinkansen's "art on the go" concept, branding, and creative direction of Genbi Shinkansen come from Transit General Office CEO Sadahiro Nakamura and Managing Officer Hikaru Okada.
Taking this art train, as Japanese design blog Spoon & Tamago noted, would be a proper prelude for visitors heading to the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. While the spring edition concluded earlier this month, it won't be long before the summer edition returns in August from August 6 to 21.
Oh Japan, please never change.