"Star Wars Express" Launched in Osaka

By Naoki Osaka : Reporter of Toyokeizai
November 27,2015
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This year is Japan's Nankai Electric Railway’s 130th year in business and is an important turning point. We were all expecting something extraordinary, and Nankai has not let us down. The train that fans have been waiting for is now here.

On November 20, it was not the usual blue-colored train which arrived in Nankai’s Suminoe Depot in Osaka, but a jet black express train titled “Rapi:t."

The feature express train of Nankai which links Kansai International Airport and Namba Station in Osaka has been quite popular since its debut in 1994. The secret is its cutting-edge design. Its “iron mask” like front is the only one in the world.

According to Nankai’s public announcement, "the design of Rapi:t shows a mixture of strength and speed;” however, many fans think that the train’s front end looks a lot like the mask of Darth Vader. With the train having the same black color as Darth Vader’s uniform and headgear, it certainly makes sense that people would assume it was modeled after the famous villain.

The long-awaited new Star Wars film Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens premieres on December 18, nine years since the conclusion of the last series. As a part of this campaign, Nankai decided to cover one of its Rapi:t trains in Star Wars decor. This unique Star Wars clad train will run from November 21 to May 8.

“I have been a huge fan of Star Wars ever since I watched the first film (Episode IV) when I was a college student. Of course I watched all five of the following episodes in the series after that,” says Tetsuro Kanamori, Senior Managing Director and Chief Director of Sales . It is therefore probably no surprise that Kanamori was the ringleader of this idea to decorate the Rapi:t train. As this is the 130th year anniversary of the company, he thought, “If we are going to do it, it has to be now.” It would be the perfect time to do something grand and elaborate.

Characters Kylo Ren and Rey adorn the train’s body. There are also images of C-3PO and R2-D2. The Star Wars designs were essentially wrapped around the body of the train; but it was too difficult to wrap the front of the train, so it was painted. This painted “face” of the train is what people are saying looks exactly like Darth Vader’s mask. Despite the resemblance, Kanamori insists that the Rapi:t was not actually fashioned to look like Darth Vader and was actually intended to represent a “star field,” thus the universe. Anyway, Darth Vader is not even in the new Star Wars film.

Kanamori explains that the theme of Rapi:t Express is closely tied to the adventurous nature of the Star Wars flicks. The Rapi:t’s connection to Kansai Airport allows everyone who rides the train to have access to the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s like a starship, in a sense?

Designers review

Interestingly enough, Wakabayashi was not even thinking about using the color blue for the body of the train when he first designed Rapi:t. The color he intended to use was Tasmanian brown, a deep brown color which is almost black. When he received the order, the first images he conjured in his mind were those of a transcontinental locomotive and a bullet train which he had seen as a child. “I felt that black metallic would be very dynamic. I wanted my train to have the image of the iron on a locomotive,” says Wakabayashi.

Nankai asked him to give them three color choices based on his final designs, and so he did: his own choice of Tasmanian brown, Nankai’s image color of green, and blue as the image of Kansai’s sky and sea.

Nankai’s management immediately chose blue, and Wakabayashi agreed. Blue seems to be a good color for Rapi:t. Since then, Rapi:t trains have been running with a blue body for 20 years. However, this time, there is a Rapi:t in the color which Wakabayashi originally envisioned. He must be quite excited to see it run.

Of course Wakabayashi has heard that Rapi:t is said to resemble Darth Vader, but he did not design the train particularly with Darth Vader in mind. Regarding the similarity, he explains, “Darth Vader’s mask was designed to look like a Japanese samurai mask. This shiny black mask may look like the head of a bullet train.”

When the Star Wars campaign period ends, the designs will be peeled off, and the train will return to its usual blue color. However, once images of the Star Wars Express are distributed on You Tube and other social media outlets, fans from all over the world may be inspired to travel to Japan to see this unique train in person.

If this ends up being the case, Nankai may decide to leave it as a black Rapi:t even after the campaign finishes. This could be Osaka’s newest tourist attraction.