By KENICHI OGURA
People who do not have a clear view of the nation and a consistent worldview are like jellyfish drifting in the sea! When I read “To the Leaders of Japan,” a book that could be called the last will and testament of former JR Tokai Chairman Takayuki Kasai, I felt as if Mr. Kasai, who is supposed to be dead, was being angry with me right in front of my eyes. Perhaps it is because I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Kasai several times, but that was my first thought when I read his posthumous book.
As the de facto founder of JR Tokai, former Chairman Kasai was a shrewd businessman who transformed the battered Japan National Railways into one of the leading companies in Japan. Mr. Kasai described the state of Japan National Railways prior to the privatization of the company.
The situation of Japan National Railways at that time, when its management practically collapsed, was that it received over 700 billion yen in subsidies every year from the government. Nevertheless, the annual deficit amounted to 1 trillion yen. The main cause of this was low labor productivity, with labor costs accounting for nearly 90% of annual income and nearly 90% of the money earned going to wages.”
JR Tokai, which started with virtually ¥5 trillion in debt when it was split up and privatized, went through a fierce battle with labor unions and the dismantling of the Shinkansen Holding Organization, an organization created by the national government to prevent the private sector from autonomous management, through Kasai’s big-picture thinking and rationality. In the process, he was at times ridiculed as a political merchant, and at other times viewed as an enemy of the labor unions of the time, who argued that “inefficient management is what will defeat capitalism. However, Kasai’s resolute and unwavering stance helped transform JR Tokai into an efficient management organization.
What we can confirm about such rationality is the “rolling stock”: although not many people living in JR Tokai’s jurisdiction know this, the variety of rolling stock on JR Tokai’s local lines is very limited, with the same type of cars running on both the Tokaido Main Line and the Chuo Main Line. On the other hand, JR East has a wide variety of trains, such as the Yamanote Line, the Chuo Line, etc., with different colors of car bodies, the Sobu Rapid with double-decker green cars, and the Kururi Line running on diesel power.
Railroad columnist Kanaiko Azuma explains: “JR Tokai is different from other railway companies.
Unlike other railroad companies, JR Tokai has very few types of rolling stock. Most conventional lines have silver bodies with orange lines; JR East and Tokyo Metro have different colors of cars and trains for each line. JR East has many types of Shinkansen trains, such as “Komachi (E6 series)” and “Hayabusa (E5 series),” while JR Tokai has the N700 system with a uniform number of cars and seating arrangement. JR Tokai was the first to abolish the dining car, and JR Kyushu has so many variations of its trains that the variety itself has become a “selling point” for JR Kyushu to attract tourists. This difference can be seen, for example, in JR Tokai’s TV commercial “Let’s go to Kyoto,” in which the Shinkansen is not the main attraction, but the shrines and temples of Kyoto, which is the destination. In contrast, JR Kyushu’s “Nanatsuboshi in Kyushu” advertisement focuses mainly on the train ride, while JR Tokai’s ads are as generic as possible, indicating their emphasis on business efficiency. Some railroad fans may find this a little unsatisfactory.
Regarding the rationality of the trains and the elimination of the dining car, Mr. Kasai stated in his book
<In May (1987), it became clear that revenues were much higher than expected. The Japanese economy had entered the expansionary phase of the bubble economy. There was growing concern that it would be difficult to obtain seats on the Tokaido Shinkansen’s “Hikari” train. Therefore, the company decided to place a large order for the 100 Series, its only option for the time being, in order to immediately increase its internal reserves, and to replace its aging 0 Series trains. The rolling stock manufacturers, believing that privatization would reduce orders, were downsizing their manufacturing facilities. With the intention of buying up that manufacturing capacity, they quickly placed an order for 50 trains over the next five years. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the “Kodama” trains were converted to 16-car trains by utilizing Series 0 trains that were to be replaced by Series 100 trains, and the dining carriages were eliminated. Many people opposed the elimination of the dining car, saying that it would “take away the feeling of traveling. However, the Shinkansen is not about travel, but about safety, accuracy, stability, high speed, high frequency, and mass transportation. Other JR companies, which had opposed the Shinkansen at the beginning, also abolished the dining car after a while.
Mr. Kasai’s unwavering stance in the face of such opposition to the elimination of the “traveler’s comfort” is something that can only be achieved by Mr. Kasai. Mr. Kasai is not afraid to declare that what is especially important for the Tokaido Shinkansen, the main artery of the Japanese economy, is “safe, accurate, stable, high-speed, high-frequency, and mass transportation. If the vision is this clear, it will be easier for the organization to move forward. If the “travel sentiment” is a subjective indicator, rationality will be compromised. This is where the difference in management style between JR Kyushu and JR Kyushu, which markets the experience of riding a train itself as tourism, is striking.
As a result of its success in generalization and higher frequency, Tokai Shinkansen has succeeded in increasing Shinkansen revenue 1.77 times and the number of trains 1.64 times from the time of privatization (1987) to 2028, while keeping the number of cars (trains) 1.32 times smaller. Before Corona, the Tokaido Shinkansen was fully loaded and on the verge of being flattened, but the company has been able to avoid this through last-minute management efforts.
JR Tokai was created in April 1987. In June, the decision was made to order a large number of Series 100 Shinkansen cars and to abolish dining cars in an effort to increase versatility and high frequency, and in July, a task force was established for the “Superconductivity Linear” project. The following year, in 1963, the “270 km/h Project” was launched. This means that a major project, which seemed to come once in 50 years for the company, was conceived and put into action almost within a year of its inception.
Mr. Kasai recalls, “I have been wondering what we should do to make the Tokaido Shinkansen stronger from sleep to wake up” (ibid.), but the conception of the project was not like solving a problem given to him by others, but rather he started by setting himself what kind of problem he had to solve in the first place. The act of solving a given problem is suitable for corporate managers to think about profit and loss for each year and act accordingly, but not for growth strategies that span over a long span of 10 years or more. Kasai has this to say about leadership.
Recently, there is a tendency that you have to be a specialist in something in order to achieve results. （However, becoming a specialist is a means, not an end. I repeat, a leader is not a person who takes on challenges given to him or her by others, but a person who creates his or her own goals. It is better to have such a mind-set consciously from the time one is as young as possible.
The transportation efficiency and time compliance of the Tokaido Shinkansen, which amazes the world, are the result of Kasai’s leadership, which has undoubtedly supported Japan’s development to date. This will be carried over to the Linear Central Shinkansen, whose construction has been stalled by the accusations of Heita Kawakatsu, governor of Shizuoka Prefecture.