Battle has raged since Japan’s general election last October over funding the next round of shinkansen construction, now that the mini-shinkansen from Morioka to Akita is about to open (p72), and work on the Hokuriku line as far as Nagano enters the final year of fitting out and commissioning. Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were lavish with promises during the election campaign, and have been pushing the finance and transport ministries hard to deliver high speed travel to their constituencies.

The LDP’s Big Idea was that the three profitable companies on Honshu (JR East, JR Central and JR West) would be relieved of an obligation to pay 100% property taxes to local government from April 1, having enjoyed since they were created in April 1987 a transitional concession requiring only 50% to be paid. The saving, some ´60bn a year, would be paid instead towards shinkansen construction, and provided national and local government together contributed the same amount, this would allow the whole programme to be finished in 20 years.

Astute readers will note that it is local government which loses out, but the three JR companies strongly opposed the idea as interference by government in their affairs and a potential threat to shareholders’ profits. At a press conference on December 17, the normally diplomatic JR presidents condemned it as ’a stupid demand totally against JR’s sound management and the principles of company accounting.’

When the draft budget for the year commencing April 1 1997 appeared on December 25, shinkansen construction was projected at ´173bn of which only ´10bn is for new projects. Token work continues on the Tohoku line towards Aomori, the Kyushu line to Kagoshima, and the Hokuriku line beyond Nagano (RG 4.92 p254). The government has set up a committee charged with reporting in August on which sections should be pushed ahead, and to what technical standards - by which time it hopes pre-election promises will have been forgotten. o