Topic 5 Unit 1 Expand!

Map of Japan (Major Cities)


What to do in…

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Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)

Shinkansen means ‘new main line’. The building of the Shinkansen began in 1959 and was completed between Tokyo and Osaka in 1965. It had a top speed of 200km/h and ran from Tokyo to Osaka in 3 hours. It was the fasted train in the world when built. Afterwards, the network expanded to over 2,400km of lines with maximum speeds of 270 to 300km/h for daily operation. By 2012, the network linked most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, with constructions of a link to the northern islands of Hokkaido underway and plan to increase speed on the Tohoku Shinkansen up to 320km/h. Experimental test runs have reached 443km/h for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record, 581km/h for maglev (magnetic levitation)trains in 2003.

The Shinkansen is not only fast, it is also very safe and comfortable. The trains run on time and are very frequent at busy periods. Most of the trains are usually quite full. First called the ‘Green Carriage’ 「グリーン車」 because it is decorated with green clover designs on the outside. The second class has reserved seats 「していせき」and non-reserved seats 「じゆうせき」.

If by any unforeseen circumstances there is an extreme delay, you may get your money back.


Ekiben (駅弁, railway boxed meals) are a specific type of bento boxed meals, sold on trains and train stations in Japan. Today, many types of ekiben can still be purchased at stands in the station, on the platform, or on the train itself. They come with disposable chopsticks (when necessary) or spoons. Ekiben containers can be made from plastic, wood, or ceramic. Many train stations have since become famous for their especially tasty ekiben, made from local food specialities. The “Golden Age” of ekiben, however, ended in the 1980s. At that time, air travel was quite expensive and trains were slower. Many tourists needed them during their train journeys.

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Japanese classical entertainment


Kabuki theatre developed in the Tokugawa period (1603-1867) and reached its peak in about 1700. Kabuki plays consists of two categories: historical dramas, which deal with the fortunes of the warrior classes; and plays depicting the daily lives of common people.

Kabuki costumes are said to be the most lavish and extravagant in the world. The actors are dressed in elaborate period costumes and wear equally elaborate make-up. Some faces are painted with various colours to show power and strength. All the actors are male. When the men act the part of women, their faces are painted white.

Another feature is that the change of costume takes places on the stage, helped by assistants dressed in black.

The art of Kabuki is passed from father to son, and training begins at a very early age. Only men born within the tradition are able to become Kabuki actors.


Noh is highly stylised lyric drama performed to the accompaniment of music and song. Noh is Japan’s oldest theatrical form. The main characters are supposed to be spirits, ghosts or superhuman beings, and for this reason, the actors wear masks to represent these characters.

Noh costumes are very elaborate but elegant. The female characters are played by men as in Kabuki. The masks may represent male, female or demon.


Bunraku is traditional Japanese puppet theatre. The puppet consits of head, trunk, hands, feet and elaborate costumes. They are about one to one and a half metres tall.

The puppeteers stand on a lowered part of the stage behind the puppets. The audience is not supposed to see the puppeteers, although they are clearly visible.

Bunraku themes are similar to that of Kabukim, but perhaps a wider range of themes is included: love, jealousy, loyalty and treason.

Unlike puppet shows in the west, Bunraku is not intended for children. The dialogues is chanted and the plot requires a mature understanding.

Geisha & Maiko

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