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Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Govt advises JR over rail troubles

In response to major problems related to the operation of trains by East Japan Railway Company (JR), the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
(MLIT) issued an atypical warning requesting mea­­­sures be taken to prevent recurrences. Normally, the ministry does not take such steps, but did so because the problems occurred repeatedly before and during the extended 10-day Golden Week holiday and affected a larger than usual number of travelers.

On April 28, the second day of the holiday period, a power failure at the Shinyuzawa substation in Niigata Prefecture halted trains on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, which con­nects Tokyo and Niigata, for nearly four hours. The trains were jammed with tour­ists and residents returning to their hometowns. The outage affected an estimated 43,000 people.

The incident followed another ma­jor mal­function at Tokyo Station on December 30 that caused the cancel­lation of the Tohoku Shinkansen, stranding some 230,000 holiday trav­elers. And on February 25, an electric cable rupture on the Chuo Line delayed 280,000, including students traveling to Tokyo for university entrance exams.

Then, just two days before the Joetsu Shinkansen incident, another failure occurred. With so many major problems happening in a short period of time, the ministry felt that such a drastic warning was justified.

A source within JR, unable to hide his surprise at the ministry’s action, remarked, “When a serious incident like a derailment occurs, typically the Transportation Safety Committee requests a report detailing the causes and what policies would be taken to prevent recurrence, but we’ve never been confronted with this sort of advisory over cancelled train runs.”

By May 4, JR advised the ministry that it would work to improve train­ing of technicians assigned to the Shinkansen’s power supply and also boost its moni­toring of train ope­rations during busy travel periods.

In a press conference on May 7, MLIT Minister Keiichi Ishii expressed his “true regrets to the users affected by the malfunctions that occurred during a time of peak demand,” and conveyed his hope that JR management will respond with a sense of urgency.

Another JR source said, “The measures this time show that the ministry’s position is also directed at the other railway com­panies.” He mentioned that the steps taken by JR were likely to include a revision of the manuals used for recovering from mishaps.

Ministry of Finance
Suspicions over new banknote designs

In a follow-up press conference after the Cabinet meeting of April 9, Finance Minister Taro Aso announced a complete change in the designs of the ¥10,000, ¥5,000, and ¥1,000 banknotes, as well as the ¥500 coin.

The new notes are scheduled for issuance in the first half of the 2024 fiscal year, but the five-year interval between announcement and circulation has raised some eyebrows. The current notes were announced in 2002 and went into circulation within two years. Many have questioned the motives behind such an early introduction of the new designs, suggesting it was intended to ride the celebratory public mood between the announcement of the new Reiwa era name on April 1 and the ascension of Emperor Naruhito on May 1.

Aso merely passed off the introduction as “overlapping” the other events, but some within the government and ruling party have suggested that he may have intended it as a sleight-of-hand “to conceal a failure” on his part.

In the Fukuoka Prefecture gubernatorial election on April 7, Kazuhisa Takeuchi—a relative newcomer to politics who was backed by Aso—was trounced by a margin of nearly one million votes by the incumbent, Hiroshi Ogawa.

Aso came under pressure to resign his post as a senior consultant to the Liberal Democratic Party in Fukuoka and expected a barrage of questions concerning this from the media at the April 9 press conference.

When he sprung the announcement of the new banknotes, the distracted media took the bait and did not ask about the election defeat. As an unnamed source in the government put it, “The newspapers’ front pages all carried photos of the new notes, and TV news devoted half its time to related news. So, Aso succeeded in diluting reports on his flop in Fukuoka.”

Keizaikai magazine