TSURU, Japan - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took US ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on a test ride of Japan’s super-fast magnetic train on Saturday, showcasing the “Maglev” technology Tokyo hopes to sell to its ally.
“I hope ambassador Kennedy will enjoy the full package of Japan - the blizzard of cherry blossoms, Mount Fuji and the state-of-the-art technology,” a relaxed-looking Abe said ahead of the ride.
As the distinctive white and pink petals of the blossom swirled in the breeze, the pair boarded at the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line near Mount Fuji.
The smiling premier was able to show off the technology with ease, as the train reached speeds of 314 miles (505 kilometres) per hour at certain points in the journey.
Maglev, short for magnetic levitation after the magnets that propel the vehicle forward in place of traditional wheels and axles, is a contender for President Barack Obama’s multi-billion-dollar national high-speed rail project.
Japanese business newspaper Nikkei reported Saturday that the operator, Central Japan Railway, does not plan to charge licensing fees in the US for the maglev train, a strong incentive for Washington to select the system for a proposed high-speed rail line between Washington DC and Baltimore.
The proposed 60-kilometre link will represent the first phase in the US government’s plan to connect the capital and Boston.
To help alleviate the estimated 1 trillion yen ($9.75 billion) cost of the franchise, Japan intends to finance half of it through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the Nikkei said.
Japan is up against Canada, France, Germany and other bidders as it seeks to sell its “Shinkansen” bullet and magnetic train systems overseas.
After the ride, Abe said: “Since I was able to share this experience with ambassador Kennedy today, I hope she would share her story with White House as well.”
Kennedy added she thought the technology was “something that will bring great benefits to Japan and hopefully to the United States.”
The train hovers 10 centimetres (four inches) above the tracks and reached a world record speed of 581 kilometres per hour in 2003, according to the operator.
In Japan, the company hopes to launch the maglev train service - billed as faster, smoother and quieter than conventional trains - between Tokyo and the central city of Nagoya by 2027.
By 2045 it is expected to link Tokyo with the main western city of Osaka in just 67 minutes, compared with the current time of more than two hours.
The diplomatic date shared by Abe and Kennedy, the only surviving daughter of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy, was their second in the last three days.
The pair chatted Thursday evening via video-link with the Japanese commander of the International Space System, Koichi Wakata, as he circled the Earth hundreds of miles (kilometres) up in the atmosphere.