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DIJ History & Humanities Study Group


From Kamikaze Aircraft to the Bullet Train: Social Variables for Technology Transfer in post-World War II Japan

23.04.2003 | 18.30

Nishiyama Takashi, Ohio State University/Tōkyō University


A little known fact is that the design of the fuselage for the Shinkansen
high-speed, Japanese bullet train is essentially a wingless airplane. The
technological pedigree of this highly successful civilian technology lies
in wartime aeronautical technology used in various aircraft deployed for
suicide missions during the last stage of World War II. This
kamikaze-to-bullet-train story is an intricately tangled history of
technology in war and peace. This paper examines how the application of
military technology to civilian use succeeded in this case and how it
became possible in the context of postwar Japan. More specifically, the
paper examines “push and pull” factors that initiated migrations of
wartime aeronautical engineers to domestic and international research
environments from 1945 to 1950. Secondly, the paper examines a series of
“revolts” by aircraft design engineers in a peripheral research
establishment against the Japan National Railways central headquarters.
During 1945-1963, wartime aircraft designers capitalized on their
accumulated wealth of knowledge in science (theoretical aerodynamics) for
bullet train development independently of Western influences. The corollary
was the archetype of the bullet train that became fully operational and
made its debut in 1964.

Koordination: Sven Saaler


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