The Japan-Korea tunnel gets revisited

Goh Kun, a former prime minister of Korea, is proposing a Japan-Korea tunnel as part of his campaign for president. With this tunnel intact, Japan and Korea would be directly linked by rail and highway, and assuming that North Korea comes out of its isolation in the future, it would be possible to ship goods between Japan and Europe entirely by rail (through the trans-Siberian).

This is hardly a novel idea. Back during World War II, the Japanese government had a long-term goal to run high-speed rail service from Japan through Korea and into the Asian mainland. Transport historian Roderick Smith:

The need for expansion of capacity [in the Tokyo-Osaka-Fukuoka corridor] was recognised, and work actually started on a new standard-gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 in. or 1,435 mm) line in 1940. A key part of the motivation behind this new line was to link Tokyo with the western part of Japan, which, in turn, linked up with Japanese-held territory in China and Korea. It was planned that fast electric trains, already nicknamed dangan ressha (Bullet Trains), would speed along this line towards Kyushu and perhaps even through an undersea tunnel to the Asian mainland via the Korean peninsula. Although the undersea Kanmon tunnel was completed between Honshu and Kyushu in 1942, thus directly linking two of Japan’s four main islands for the first time, the Pacific war had started in 1941 and it was to be some time before the railway network could be further expanded.

A few of the tunnels blasted as part of this plan were eventually used for Japan’s first high-speed railway line, the Tokaido Shinkansen, which opened in 1964.

Anyway, they could be on to something with this tunnel. Besides freight, an overnight high-speed train from Tokyo to Seoul could prove very popular, and in the future, it could even be extended to Beijing or farther. A big investment, sure, but perhaps not as hare-brained as it might initially sound.

19 thoughts on “The Japan-Korea tunnel gets revisited”

  1. That sounds amazing! I can’t wait for the day when I can take a train all the way from Sapporo to Edinburgh, and my cell phone works in every single country along the way.

  2. This is nothing but a nightmare to us.
    Do these guys ever consult anything with Tokyo beforehand?

  3. Well, it’s obviously impossible until S. Korean citizens have visa free access to Japan, and economically might not be worth it unless you really could go by rail or road between Japan and Eurasia, but it would still be pretty awesome.

    I like the quote “An advisory group for Goh recently recommended the undersea tunnel project. But it has not been adopted as an official campaign promise yet”
    Yeah, it would be kind of hard to promise that without speaking to Japan, wouldn’t it?

  4. SK citizens DO have visa free access to Japan started from march’06.MF.
    Could be the only gift to the bilaterral relation from the reign of the lioheart

    I too dream about taking a train bound to Ulaanbaatar and see my in-laws.but why this is my dream and not my dream project ,two reasons.
    1)Somehow Joe didn’t share this widely known fact that J-K tunnel has also been advocated by the moonies for decades as their dream project.
    2)You know about the latest naming craze regarding ‘the body of water between
    Japan and Korea’ popped out on monday,right? Although I realize Goh Kun decided this propositon to korean voters slightly before,Shintaro Ishihara might get a hint it’s time to reprint his old bestseller.

  5. Given the history, a lot of PR effort will have to be spent to make the proposal seem less “Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” and more “Channel Tunnel, cosy arrangement between friends.”

  6. Lots of potential here to bring about an accelerated exchange of people, ideas, and perspectives. No harm there.

    I think that it is also an indication that there is a real “pro Japan” (or at least neutral toward Japan) trend in South Korea. Any kind of common ground there is good.

    Not saying that either side has to bend over backward to please the other, just that it is nice to see that Japan is no longer a four letter work in Korea and that people can actually TALK about things in a transnational sense, a big improvement compared with the last few years.

  7. Just came back from the marmot’s hole,the korea blog, I think a lot of you know about it more than I do….
    Man,the place scares me! I mean,currently there is an ongoing thread almost reaching 500,about an English lecturer of some korean university and he was writing like’maybe-Takeshima or Dokto-belongs-to-Japan-just-maybe’ kinda piece on HIS BLOG and GOT FIRED for it! Now the thread is in a total hobbesian confusion,pretty much like Baghdad.
    Christ,the expat commentators are so rough,the natives are so mean,I was glad I didn’t leave any comment there.Being a Japanese I just felt like a fox wondered into a fur shop.boy, did I not miss the nice and cozy atmosphere at Mutantfrog.
    What some people do or say for just a piece of rock to me in the sea of whatever is just unimaginable.
    ….But coming back here and look what I found! Joe is insisting us this plan of calling the tunnel named after some old 1000yen guy….I was expecting some solutions,not FINAL SOLUTION,Joe!

    “people can actually TALK about things in a transnational sense, a big improvement compared with the last few years.”
    You are a nice man M-Bone,a nice man.There should be more of you in this part of the world.(笑)

  8. Ha. I’m not sure how nice I am but I think that there are plenty of people like me in Japan anyway. That’s why I’m not worried about Japan going militarist in the foreseeable future.

    I think that one of the reasons why this blog is so good (aside from the excellent original posts) is that when someone posts something crazy (ie. women who act in a suggestive manner deserve to be raped) people just ignore them. These people humiliate themselves, they don’t need anyone else to do it for them.

    The Korean discursive situation can be very intimidating. At the university where I study/teach someone has gone around to virtually all of the maps hanging on classroom walls, crossed out “Sea of Japan”, and written in “East Sea”. Is this the way to start any debate or to get people talking? Where I grew up, the “East Sea” was the Atlantic…. However, there are indications that very public anti-Japanese expression in Korea is on the way out. I just hope that it is replaced by exchange on the popular level and some frank talk on the political.

  9. “SK citizens DO have visa free access to Japan started from march’06.MF.”
    Ah right. I remembered that they had set up temporary visa waiver programs twice for Korea, and they made the Taiwan visa waver permanent while I was in Taiwan (I think in 2005 still) and their was speculation that Korea would follow, but I must have missed the headline announcing it was finalized. Thanks for the correction.

  10. The comments at Marmot’s Hole do get pretty scary sometimes. I still like the posts by the actual blog authors, but I stopped looking at/responding to the comments section a while ago. I certainly wouldn’t mind growing the number of good commenters here, but I really don’t want it to turn into some crazy free for all.

    “”At the university where I study/teach someone has gone around to virtually all of the maps hanging on classroom walls, crossed out “Sea of Japan”, and written in “East Sea”.””
    In the international dorm where I lived in Kyoto 2002-2003 they posted a notice about SARS or something that said:

    *Hong Kong

    which one of the Taiwanese students living there helpfully corrected with a magic marker. Not that I didn’t completely agree with the correction myself, of course.

  11. I was in a ryugakusei Japanese class at a national uni. A student was asked “What country are you from?” and responded “Taiwan”. A Chinese student gave a haughty laugh and declared that Taiwan is not a country. VERY uncomfortable moment.

    It makes me think that I’m lucky to be from Canada, a country that has very few beefs. Makes being a foreign student easier.

  12. Something similar happened when I was in high school in Osaka. On the first day of world history class, the teacher went around the room and asked each student to name a country in Asia. I was last on the roster (having enrolled late) in a class of 40, so by the time they came around to me there weren’t many countries left.

    I said “Taiwan,” which hadn’t been named yet.

    The teacher (who was Japanese) said “Uh, not really, but all right. Well then, moving right along…”

  13. I’m fairly sure that last weekend I had a dream in which I was arguing with someone about whether Taiwan is really a country or not (I was pro-Taiwan as country). But I’m still not completely positive that it wasn’t a real conversation I had at one of the bars I had been in earlier that evening…

  14. Japan is already negotiating with Russia on transforming the Trans Siberian railroad to 2-3 day delivery service to Europe with Shinkansen…Putin seems to like the idea…

  15. I dunno about that Joe.
    When I was in Korea this May,I covered the event of inter-korean railway and went to this station a t Dorasan which was right near the demilitarized zone.ANd there was this gigantic board on the wall of station saying” destination to Europe starts at Dorasan”.And the rail from Dorasan goes always to Paris by crossing Eurasia…
    The new presidential candidate Chung Dong-young is very keen on this project as well as his “progressive(in a very Korean context”progressors and even wrote a book on it called “Train ticket from Kaesong to Paris”.(Dorasan is right in front of NK city of Kaesong where joint-economic zone exists).So he may push Korea’s KTX (The current one is made with parts of French TGV in Korea,but they are designing new version)instead of Shinkansen.

    I think we Japanese rather fly or use hydrofoils to Korea,but then again conservative candidate Lee Myoung-bak is thinking about building gigantic canals accross SK and he may wants to launch another mega-construction project with Japan without consalting beforehand.

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