The Genbi Shinkansen 現美新幹線
The bar in the GENBI Shinkansen, selling regional specialities
The fastest museum in the world
The concept of GENBI Shinkansen is simple: works by contemporary artists, exhibited on a high-speed train. Visitors can take the time to admire them during a trip between Echigo-Yuzawa and Niigata, every weekend.
Since April 29th 2016, on the Joetsu Shinkansen high-speed line, this special train has made three round trips every weekend and public holiday. The GENBI Shinkansen is one of the "new temptations" of JR, initiated to bring people to the areas of Japan that generally attract fewer tourists, and help revitalize them. All the works on display were created especially for this train. The artistic journey lasts 50 minutes, and there is so much to see, both inside and outside the train.
The exterior of the train represents a firework display, along all six of the cars. It's the photographic work of Mika Ninagawa, taken at a fireworks display in Nagaoka, a city not far from Niigata, where the GENBI Shinkansen stops. Inside the train, each car has a specific atmosphere.
This is the only car where you have to reserve a seat, the others offer free access, jiyu seki. So you have the classic arrangement of seats, just like in a "real" train, except with very comfortable and neat upholstery, the fabric and patterns imagined by Nao Matsumoto, evoke the light and the party after a rice harvest.
This car is the work of Yusuke Komuta. Leather sofas are arranged on one side, and a wall of mirrored faceted steel plates on the other. The desired effect is to have the Echigo landscape scrolling all around you when the train is running at full speed. The show is so captivating that you could stay in this one car for the whole trip - yet there are many more wonders to discover!
This is the favorite car of children, because there are plastic train railway sets to play with. The decoration, mainly white and blue, of this car was entrusted to a young duo of Japanese artists, Paramodel, whose motto is: "to play is an art".
Part of this car is reserved for the cafe, from which parents can keep an eye on their kids, sipping a drink and enjoying a regional snack, straight from the town of Tsubame to Niigata; vanilla cake and Uonuma rice flour, or Sado lemon cheesecake. Everyone is benefits. There are even paintings by the artist Kentaro Kobuke hanging on the wall, to follow the concept of the train.
Here you are in an art photography gallery. The artist Naoki Ishikawa took pictures exclusively in the region of Niigata, according to the seasons: sea workers, villagers celebrating during a matsuri, summer flower fields in bloom, forests in the warm colors of koyo, seasides beaten by winter storms. The quality of the images is exceptional, a feast for the eyes! Admire it all, comfortably seated on sofas.
The artist Haruka Kojin offers a fantastic experience, in the form of an installation of thousands of paper flowers, stretched by invisible threads, that gently move with the movements of the train. The effect is amazing, especially since the composition plays on symmetry, as if you were immersed in a giant kaleidoscope: it's almost hypnotic!
Finally, an American artist was invited to the festival of high-speed Japanese art, Brian Alfred. His medium is video art. Screens are placed on the wall, you sit in front of them and discover a 15-minute animation inspired by the customs of the Niigata region. At first it seems that each screen shows the same image, but to look at it more closely we perceive a shift, and subtle differences. The snow doesn't fall everywhere in the same way, nor uniformly either. As in nature, from one mountain to another, the vegetation is not exactly the same, nor is there the same amount of snowfall. Hot air balloons drift slowly, landscapes are changing. It is pleasant to watch, very peaceful.
And it's already the end of the trip. Access is free with a Japan Rail Pass, and you can go back in the opposite direction for a second trip of art by train.
But you can, of course, also take the opportunity to discover the treasures of the Niigata region.
This video shows you the different artistic ambiance in each GENBI Shinkansen car:
Comments Read comments from our travellers
Funny how many people on the train (in the video) are staring at their phones - could they be researching the artists perhaps?