Japan's Groundbreaking Bullet Train Is Officially 50 Years Old

The iconic image of majestic bullet train blasting past the snowcapped peaks of Mount Fuji has become a symbol of Japan’s growth into an economic and technological juggernaut. This month, the blue-and-white liveried Shinkansen Bullet Train that stars in the photo above is officially 50 years old.

Over the past half century, the Bullet Train has become inextricably linked with the nation and the people it has served so diligently. Since its debut in 1964, the Shinkansen has grown from a single line connecting Tokyo and Osaka to lines linking all parts of the country. These days, the BBC reports that one bullet train leaves Tokyo for Osaka every 3 minutes.

When the Shinkansen first appeared, it was unlike anything people had seen before. So they simply referred to it by the shape of its design.

The first bullet train trip left Tokyo for Osaka at 6:00 AM on the morning of Oct. 1, 1964...

On its way to Osaka, the train zoomed past Mount Fuji...

Four and a half hours later, the Shinkansen arrived at its destination.

Today, the newest bullet trains can make the trip in just two and half hours...

The Shinkansen's record for reliability and safety is impeccable. There have been no fatal accidents in the network's 5 decades of service.

One of the secrets to the Shinkansen's success is its innovative propulsion design.

...engineers placed electric drive motors in each of the train's cars.

This allowed for more uniform performance characteristics.

Over the years, the Bullet Train has been popular with celebrities and dignitaries.

Everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger...

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (3rd R) and East Japan Railway's Vice President Masaki Ogata (2nd R) stand beside a 'shinkansen', also known as a bullet train, during his tour of Japan's high-speed train operations at Omiya Station in Saitama, north of Tokyo

...to the King and Queen of Sweden have hopped on the Shinkansen.

Swedish King Carl XVI. Gustaf and Queen Silvia get into a Shinkansen bullet train at Tokyo station

German Chancellor Angela Merkel went for a ride.

As did Britain's Prince Andrew.

Tom Cruise traveled by bullet train during his press tour for the 'Mission Impossible' series.

Naturally, he got mobbed by fans.

Former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter and daughter Amy rode with the conductor.

First Lady Rosalynn Carter and daughter Amy take a look at the engineer's compartment in Japan's futuristic 120 mile per hour 'Bullet' train, Thursday, June 28, 1979

While the late Senator Ted Kennedy...

...and astronaut/former Senator John Glenn chose to ride in the passenger compartment.

The original and most iconic of the bullet trains is called the '0 Series.'

Incredibly, the 0 Series remained in service from 1964 until 2008.

The cockpit of the original bullet train was simple but effective.

The cabin was quiet and comfortable.

There's even a dining car. However, as the trains get faster and trip times grow shorter, there is concern the days of the Shinkansen dining cars may be numbered, as the there may not be enough time for an onboard meal.

Although the oldest Bullet Trains had a top speed of 130 mph...

...today's fastest bullet train, called the 'Hayabusa,' has a maximum operating speed of 199 mph.

The new Hayabusa shinkansen or bullet train departs from Aomori station in Aomori, northern Japan

After the 0 Series came the 100 Series in the 1980s.

Other highlights include the menacing 300 Series...

...the sleek 400 Series...

...the fighter-jet-like 500 Series...

...the duck-bill 700 Series...

...and the N700 Series.

Japanese Shinkansen technology has been a popular export in recent years.

Modern high-speed trains in China like this CRH2...

...and Taiwan's 700T are based on Bullet Train technology.

As the Bullet Train celebrates its 50th birthday, where will train technology go in the next 50 years?

One possibility is this -- magnetic levitation. A train that rides on an invisible force field of magnets may sound farfetched to many. Then again -- to people 50 years ago -- so did a high-speed electric train shaped like a bullet!

The Italians have also managed to create an innovative piece of technology...

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