Japan Is Getting High-Speed “Invisible” Trains

Reflective material will make them blend into the landscape

Rendering courtesy of Seibu Railway

Using a semi-reflective material, designed to mirror back the landscape it traverses, the Seibu Railway Company will debut an impressive new high-speed train in 2018. The train is being constructed to commemorate Seibu’s 100th anniversary; the company contracted Pritzker-winning (often called “architecture’s Nobel Prize”) architect Kazuyo Sejima for the design.

"The limited express travels in a variety of different sceneries, from the mountains of Chichibu to the middle of Tokyo, and I thought it would be good if the train could gently co-exist with this variety of scenery," Sejima said in a press statement from Seibu.

The harmonious melding of man-made functionality and natural surroundings is a hallmark of Japanese design; it’s unsurprising this approach is now being applied to the the train. In addition to the mirror-like outer material, the shape of these trains will have softer curves and a more organic structure than many of Seibu’s more traditional cars. The new design will be implemented in Seibu’s Red Arrow series of trains, connecting Tokyo with parts of central Japan.

Though the new trains will not be any more eco-friendly or quiet than its high-speed counterparts, Seibu is waxing poetic about its Zen-like prospects: “We aim to provide a new public space, almost parklike, where people will come together,” the company said in a statement. “It’s more than just a means of movement, it’s a destination in its own right. The train will serve commuters, people seeking relaxation, and tourists drawn by its unique appearance.”

Unlike the U.S., where train travel has been suffering a sad decline for decades, trains are a vital and vibrant piece of Japan’s transport infrastructure. In fact, this new chameleon-like train is only one of many innovative new designs being rolled out in the next couple of years. Many of the others focus on the interior, though, promising an array of luxuries for the traveler. Sejima seems to be designing for everyone else—on the outside looking in.


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