The BBC and NHK have dominated their national media systems since the 1920s and still play a central role in shaping political, social and cultural life. Both are highly trusted news organizations, and vitally influence national identity. Yet despite remarkably similar organizational and funding structures, they differ in their editorial autonomy, relationship to the state, and in the social and cultural roles they play. While the BBC, proud of its independence, acts as a watchdog on the powerful, NHK prefers a guide dog role cooperating with rather than confronting political elites. The BBC is also more willing to challenge prevailing social norms, often serving as an agent of social change. NHK prefers to avoid controversy, serving as an agent of social stability.
The book argues that these differences were shaped by decades of conflict and cooperation between broadcasters, governments, commercial media, interest groups and audiences. The broadcasters adopted distinctive editorial strategies to retain public support and elite approval in the face of technological upheaval, hostility from commercial rivals, and continuous political interference. Both, however, continue to uphold the belief that democratic and social goals are better served by public rather than commercial media.
A symbol of the "new Japan" displayed at World's Fairs, depicted in travel posters, and celebrated as the product of a national spirit of innovation, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen—the first bullet train, dubbed the "dream super-express"—represents the bold aspirations of a nation rebranding itself after military defeat, but also the deep problems caused by the unbridled postwar drive for economic growth. At the dawn of the space age, how could a train become such an important symbol? In Dream Super-Express, Jessamyn Abel contends that understanding the various, often contradictory, images of the bullet train reveals how infrastructure operates beyond its intended use as a means of transportation to perform cultural and sociological functions. The multi-layered dreams surrounding this high-speed railway tell a history not only of nation-building but of resistance and disruption. Though it constituted neither a major technological leap nor a new infrastructural connection, the train enchanted, enthralled, and enraged government officials, media pundits, community activists, novelists, and filmmakers. This history of imaginations around the monumental rail system resists the commonplace story of progress to consider the tug-of-war over the significance of the new line. Is it a vision of the future or a reminder of the past, an object of international admiration or a formidable threat? Does it enable new relationships and identities or reify existing social hierarchies? Tracing the meanings assigned to high-speed rail shows how it prompted a reimagination of identity on the levels of individual, metropolis, and nation in a changing Japan.