I still get emotional when I remember a scene from the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa.
When Japan lost its round-of-16 match against Paraguay, midfielder Daisuke Matsui comforted defender Yuichi Komano by putting an arm around his shoulders, as Komano had missed his kick in the penalty shootout. After returning to Japan, Matsui said on a TV program:
"I've known Koma-chan ever since we were in primary school. I called him Shinkansen as a nickname."
Matsui apparently was talking about the time they were chosen for Japan's Under-12 national team. I guess the young Matsui found a teammate who could run like the wind on a green pitch.
A question suddenly occurred to me: Did we have someone called "Shinkansen" in my primary school days?
I can't recall anyone being given such a nickname at my school. The boy who could run the fastest in my grade was just called Honda-kun, but the name had nothing to do with Honda Motor Co.'s cars or motorcycles. It was his real family name.
All of my classmates were born shortly before the Tokaido Shinkansen was inaugurated in 1964. For our generation, the dream superexpress was a big star.
Even so, none of my friends was nicknamed for the Shinkansen. Why?
I suddenly realized it was probably because of where we grew up. The rail lines in my hometown only occasionally saw an express train—let alone a bullet train. No one had ever seen the Shinkansen racing the wind.
I hear that areas around the Oi River or near the foot of Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture are among the best places to enjoy excellent views of the Tokaido Shinkansen. Standing there, you can see the Shinkansen's streamlined form slicing across your field of vision even before you hear the swoosh of the train. How do people express what they feel at such a moment?
"Oh...that's the Shinkansen."
That says it all. I don't know how often the young Matsui visited Shizuoka Prefecture, one of the nation's soccer strongholds. However, I assume he had a moment when he exclaimed "Oh!" as a Shinkansen glided by.
Now, the joy of watching the superexpress has been spreading all over the nation. Kyushu recently welcomed its own Shinkansen, and the Hokuriku region will do so next spring. More and more boys will be called "Shinkansen-kun" in many parts of the nation. They can be proud of their ability to run fast. It's not just a nickname, but an honorary title.
By the way, it was amazing how fast Honda-kun could run. I wonder if he and my other old friends are doing well. I find myself having reached 50 years of age, the same age as the superexpress.
Profile of Junichi Shimizu
Shimizu, an editorial writer for The Yomiuri Shimbun, has worked in posts including the duty desk in the city news department. He is also in charge of the "Yomiuri Sunpyo" column, which appears on the front page of the evening edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun.