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Innovation By Design

Japan's Newest Train Design Will Be Practically Invisible

Architect Kazuyo Sejima wants Tokyo's next local express trains to be as hard to see as Wonder Woman's jet plane.

Japan's Newest Train Design Will Be Practically Invisible

Japan's speedy bullet trains already move so fast that you almost can't see them coming. The new train being designed for the Seibu Railway Co. by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima of Sanaa will be hard to see, even standing still. It's a chameleon-like train that has been designed to blend into the countryside that it is streaking through.

Scheduled to hit tracks in 2018, the new Seibu flagship train cars have an organic shape that is much different from the boxy New Red Arrow trains that currently run limited express services in the Tokyo area. Coupled with a semi-reflective skin designed to mirror the surrounding scenery, Sejima's train was designed with the stated goal to be as fun to watch blend into its surroundings as it is to ride.

The Seibu train will be the first train ever designed by Sejima, a recipient of the Pritzker, often called the Nobel Prize of architecture. It's the latest example of Japan's railways and train services turning to unconventional designers to reimagine the way trains look in the country.

Sejima says that what appealed to her about the project was the difference between designing a building, which is rooted in a single spot, and designing an object that needs to travel through many different environments.

"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 is quoted as saying in Seibu's official press release. "I also would like it to be a limited express where large numbers of people can all relax in comfort, in their own way, like a living room, so that they think to themselves 'I look forward to riding that train again.'"

Of course, in a way, a train's appearance probably makes less impact on its environment than anything else about it. Emissions, sound pollution, and the disruption of laying down miles of track are all going to be bigger problems than the sight of a train quickly passing through a given area.

It's fitting, though, watching Japan—long a country that tries to emphasize design harmony with nature—finally apply the same approach to its railroad system. Let's just hope that if Japan is going to have invisible trains, it at least makes sure everyone knows where the tracks are.

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