"Tokyo Station Track 15, all aboard for Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Moscow!"
The media is full of speculation that Japan and the Russian Republic may reach accord over territorial issues that have persisted since the end of World War II, and in so doing, enjoy considerably cozier relations than at present.
How cozy? Well Shukan Jitsuwa (Oct 27) reports that if the two countries see eye-to-eye, the world's longest railway, the 9,297-long Trans-Siberian, might someday be extended by bridge across the 7-kilometer wide Strait of Tartary (also known as the Mamiya Strait) from the Asian mainland to Sakhalin and eventually, via a 42-kilometer-long bridge or undersea tunnel to Wakkanai in Hokkaido.
"The line would eventually terminate in Tokyo," says a journalist who covers political topics for a nationally circulated newspaper. "The idea is being proposed by Russia, but the lion's share of the construction costs would be borne by Japan.
"In addition to transporting freight, the line would carry tourists in both directions and would be expected to enhance people-to-people exchanges," he added.
The rolling stock on the Trans-Siberian has become dilapidated, and estimates for renovations utilizing new high-speed trains reach between 5 to 10 trillion yen. It's likely the burden for this would fall mostly on Japan as well.
"Russia is not just proposing a railway," the reporter continued. "They have come up with a concept for an 'energy bridge' that would cross the straits to Japan via undersea cable to deliver electric power, as well as a pipeline for liquefied natural gas. So the basis of the plan would be to supply Japan with energy."
"The former president of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, a close associate of President Putin, visited Japan last year to attend a conference called 'The World's Fastest Railway,'" a source in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is quoted as saying. "While here, Yakunin is said to have met secretly with Prime Minister Abe and made the proposal."
Rather than give in to Japan's demands for return of the entire Northern Territories, Russia may be mulling return of two island groups, the Habomais and Shikotan. But even a partial recovery of territory may give Abe the backing of his own party to push for the new railway.
Japanese investment in the project is most likely to benefit the economy of the Russian Far East, but hopes of selling the Russians shinkansen technology might promise some economic gain.
"Unfortunately, Putin has already signed a pact with China's Xi Jinping to purchase high-speed railway equipment from China, so that pretty much puts a damper on our ambitions to sell overseas," says a source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Japan was recently outbid by China on a high-speed railway network in Indonesia.
The source at METI also voiced skepticism over Russia's ability to supply electric power and LNG to Japan from Siberia.
"If Japan were to become more dependent on Russia as an energy source, this might damage its relations with the U.S.," he said. "And a dispute with Russia could result in its shutting off supplies to Japan, which could be disastrous."
One strategy the Russians have adopted is that if the Trans-Siberian can be extended to Japan, the time required for transporting freight from Japan to Europe, presently 35 to 40 days, would be reduced to around 25 days.
"Japan previously used Russian railways to ship goods to Europe, but stopped after the dissolution of the Soviet Union," a source in the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism tells the magazine. "There are always some concerns, in dealing with present-day Russia, over safety and reliability. Considering the costs this project would entail, it involves taking a huge risk."© Japan Today