East Asia by the Book! CEAS Author Talks: Jessamyn R. Abel - "Dream Super-Express"

Thursday, November 9, 2023 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Event Presenter/Author: 
Jessamyn R. Abel

Jessamyn R. Abel will discuss Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World's First Bullet TrainA Q&A and signing will follow the discussion.

This event will be held in person at the Franke Institute for the Humanities.

Presented in partnership with The Center for East Asian Studies at The University of Chicago


About the book: A symbol of the "new Japan" displayed at World's Fairs, depicted in travel posters, and celebrated as the product of a national spirit of innovation, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen—the first bullet train, dubbed the "dream super-express"—represents the bold aspirations of a nation rebranding itself after military defeat, but also the deep problems caused by the unbridled postwar drive for economic growth. At the dawn of the space age, how could a train become such an important symbol? In Dream Super-Express, Jessamyn Abel contends that understanding the various, often contradictory, images of the bullet train reveals how infrastructure operates beyond its intended use as a means of transportation to perform cultural and sociological functions. The multi-layered dreams surrounding this high-speed railway tell a history not only of nation-building but of resistance and disruption. Though it constituted neither a major technological leap nor a new infrastructural connection, the train enchanted, enthralled, and enraged government officials, media pundits, community activists, novelists, and filmmakers. This history of imaginations around the monumental rail system resists the commonplace story of progress to consider the tug-of-war over the significance of the new line. Is it a vision of the future or a reminder of the past, an object of international admiration or a formidable threat? Does it enable new relationships and identities or reify existing social hierarchies? Tracing the meanings assigned to high-speed rail shows how it prompted a reimagination of identity on the levels of individual, metropolis, and nation in a changing Japan.

About the author: Jessamyn R. Abel is College of the Liberal Arts Endowed Fellow, Associate Professor in the Asian Studies Department, and Affiliated Faculty of the School of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University. She is a historian of modern Japan with interests in democratization, technology, infrastructure, sports, and international relations. Her recently published book, Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World’s First Bullet Train, views the 1960s through the window of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. Her first book, The International Minimum: Creativity and Contradiction in Japan’s Global Engagement, 1933-1964, examines the transwar development of Japanese internationalism. Other publications include articles on the bullet train, technology, the Tokyo Olympics, cultural diplomacy, textbooks, and the history of whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her current research focuses on postwar Japan to examine the process of democratization through infrastructures of daily life.

About CEAS: The Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) and its three Committees — the Committee on Japanese Studies, the Committee on Chinese Studies, and the Committee on Korean Studies — work to enhance opportunities available to scholars both in the United States and abroad, and to foster communication and inter-disciplinary collaboration among the community of professors and students at the University of Chicago and throughout the wider East Asian Studies community.

Event Location: 
Franke Institute for the Humanities
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, IL 60637