My Proposed Fulbright Project

So I submitted it last week. My Fulbright. It’s in and the only thing to do now is wait until January 31. Well, I have an interview, but the project is at a standstill. For those who may have not seen it yet, take a read:

On February 17th, 2009 President Obama signed into action the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).” This bill allocated $8 billion to states for inter-city high speed rail development. As of right now, states such as Florida and California are accepting applications for this grant money. High speed rail is coming to America.

With an entirely new mode of transportation coming, there will be changes in many aspects of Americans’ lives. According to the ARRA, one purpose of creating such a system is “to invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits.” Another reason for this investment, according to the act, is to “create jobs and promote economic recovery.” Economic issues have played a key role in promoting American high speed rail. Current plans often refer to the direct jobs and money to construct the rail system, but what other indirect economic effects and long term benefits should be considered? I will explore this question with my research.

Japan was the first to develop an inter-city high speed rail system, dating back to 1964. This system, known as the Shinkansen, has become the backbone of Japan’s infrastructure and stable economy. With the Shinkansen being the fastest, safest and most efficient system in the world, it has become a model for rail worldwide. China’s current effort towards high speed rail and many European systems often compare themselves to the Shinkansen, to measure their success. Understanding its key influences on the economy in Japan will reveal some insightful information regarding what lies ahead in America’s future when a similar system is implemented. Using the Shinkansen system as a model, I will investigate the relationship between high speed rail and the economic elements in everyday life.

Choosing an appropriate scope of focus is essential to this research. Population density and supporting infrastructures are two factors that make the U.S. and Japan difficult to compare on a national level. However, my research will focus on specific regions in both nations. I had a great talk with Petra Todorovich on this topic. As the director of America 2050, a research organization dedicated to high speed rail, she was sure she had a target location for my research. She determined that a rail line between New York City and Washington D.C. would be most comparable to the current Tokkaido Shinkansen connecting Tokyo and Nagoya. I will use the research and information available from America 2050 on the Washington-New York corridor and focus my analysis on the Tokkaido Shinkansen.

Examining long-term effects of such a system means analyzing the ridership history of the Tokkaido Shinkansen. Although there are economic theories that place monetary value on transportation systems, they are only concerned with the time saved compared to the next best alternative (auto, air). This ignores what happens after stepping off of the train. It ignores how travelers interact with the city and how the city accommodates these travelers. Understanding ridership trends will tell a story of the relationship between the Shinkansen and the economy.

The next step of my project will be to compare the ridership data to important economic factors such as city growth, business growth and development, wages rates, cost of living, property values, population fluctuations, and changes in the work force. Finding a correlation with ridership will reveal the kind of relationships that exist with the economy. I have been in contact with Japan Rail, the company operating the Shinkansen, and they will assist me in obtaining ridership information.

I plan to obtain this data by visiting companies and surveying employees who use the Shinkansen to travel to work. I will also ask for businesses’ financial statements to reveal economic growth trends. To get information related to population and cost of living, I will visit city halls and town halls. The Chamber of Commerce for these towns will also be a useful place to learn about business development. Visiting these offices will be an essential part of my research because it may lead me to unsolicited information and people who have experience in this field. Although I have planned my project, it is a possibility that changes may arise as I come across new information and make discoveries through my own research.

Next, I will begin to analyze and look for trends in the data. Members of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Railroads, The director of America 2050, and members of the Federal Railroad Administration are all aware of my research and will provide me with support if I need.

Understanding the influence of a high speed rail system on a local economy will be useful in many ways for US development. Cities may better understand how to integrate new rail into local transportation and create more pedestrian-friendly areas. Businesses will learn to utilize high speed rail to increase competitiveness and operate efficiently. Residents of areas where rail is being developed will better understand the changes of their cities. Finding positive influences in my research will promote this energy-efficient and time-efficient transportation system that is much needed in the U.S.

This grant will give me the opportunity to engage in Japanese culture beyond my research. Through my experiences collecting data and a formal classroom setting, I will be able to learn Japanese fit for business and professional settings. I would also like to learn the history of the language and study Japanese literature. Language will be a key part of my learning experience abroad and will help me become a better cultural ambassador of the U.S.

My previous year in Japan only left me with a longer list of things to see and do. I would like to continue my learning about Tea Ceremonies, as it is a fading ancient tradition. I will also use my time in Japan to study Shinto and Buddhist thought to better understand the religious aspects of Japan’s society. I will share American culture as well as assisting students of English.

This proposed project will also be a medium of cultural understanding for more than just me. I hope this project will become a learning experience for everyone involved, Americans and Japanese alike. Receipt of this grant will make me a lifelong ambassador of America and give me a chance to contribute to U.S.-Japan relations and the America of tomorrow. It is my hope that one day I will live in an efficient, thriving America that learned from the Japanese way of travel.

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