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    Orient Express Inspired Bus Elevates the Patient Experience


Bespoke Aero Ace, Narrative 8811, allows hospital patients to embark on an unforgettable adventure.

Thin rays of light filter through ornate wooden-latticed blinds and stained glass windows, illuminating the patchwork floor, which dazzles with its myriad colors and patterns. Sophisticated golden-rimmed wall lamps suggest homage to the iconic Orient Express and plush seats adorned with elegant floral patterns and a refined wooden bar counter create an inviting ambiance for casual conversation or reverie.

This setting may sound like that of a grand hotel lobby, but it is in fact the interior of Narrative 8811. The wheelchair-accessible elevator bus was conceived by Fuke Hospital chairman, Dr. Takaki Fuke. The Saitama Prefecture hospital commissioned esteemed industrial designer Eiji Mitooka, to create a vehicle to take patients on an unforgettable journey.

A NARRATIVE HOSPITAL  The customized Aero Ace bus in British racing green and adorned with golden emblems bearing the hospital’s signature sits at the facility’s entrance drawing attention from the ebb and flow of hospital staff and patients seeking treatment or returning from rehabilitation sessions.

“Narrative,” the facility’s philosophy and the name of the bus, is the hospital’s commitment to weaving together each patient’s story through initiatives such as the “staircase of stories,” a wall of patient photographs, and the Narrative Notebook journals at each patients’ bedside, where they write down their daily activities.

MAKING MEMORIES Driven by his own extraordinary travel experiences, Dr. Fuke was inspired to commission the elevator bus. His goal was to provide any inpatient and their family an opportunity to embark on an Orient Express-like journey. As a result, he hopes of contributing a significant chapter to the story of their lives.

Realizing this ambitious vision was a formidable undertaking. Entailing the implementation of ingenious engineering to incorporate a functional elevator system within the design. Furthermore, the interior had to be crafted to etch an enduring memory in the minds of passengers. Within the creative framework, Dr. Fuke wanted patients to experience a sense of awe and anticipation as the elevator ascends.

Given the distinctive nature of this project, it required a design and production team that possessed both limitless imagination and comprehensive expertise in functionality. In pursuit of this, FUSO joined forces with the singular individual capable of transforming Dr. Fuke’s vision into reality.

INTRODUCING EIJI MITOOKA  Renowned designer and illustrator Eiji Mitooka was enlisted to realize the vision of Narrative 8811. Drawing inspiration from influential figures as varied as Frank Lloyd Wright, Leonardo Da Vinci and Walt Disney, has applied his limitless imagination to create exquisitely designed trains in Japan, from luxury cruisers to high-speed shinkansen, and with an aesthetic that blends artistic brilliance with the functionality of fully operational vehicles.

Mitooka’s creative vision is fueled by his relentless quest for originality. He firmly rejects the idea of disposable design, instead dedicating himself to the creation of meaningful works that possess enduring quality.

When it comes to his vehicles, Mitooka’s primary goal is to conceive designs that entice people to embark on repeated journeys, evoking a profound sense of emotion and captivating their hearts along the way. Transferring his extensive experience as a train designer, he sought to apply his knowledge from the rails to the roads.

A NEW CHALLENGE  Even with such an extensive catalog of work, this marked the first occasion Mitooka embarked on a coach project. Although he could draw upon his prior experiences in overcoming obstacles, he encountered some distinct challenges that demanded his attention and resolution.

Mitooka acknowledges, “Every new project presents its own set of challenges. One major obstacle in this project was discovering a suitable method to fasten the wheelchair securely while the bus was in motion. Additionally, we faced the challenge of working with limited headroom and pondered how to create a sense of openness within the confined space. We explored numerous ideas before hitting upon the answer.”

This process of trial and error contributes to the nature of Mitooka’s designs. He enlists skilled shokunin artisans to bring his visions to life. He believes that “only through hard work, dedicated effort and the human touch can one create truly memorable experiences for people.”

BUILDING A STAGE  The interior design of the bus plays a crucial role in attaining the platform and desired “excitement” moment sought by Dr. Fuke.The patchwork-style flooring combines vibrant bursts of color reminiscent of Antoni Gaudi, while, the decorative wall paneling and seat fabrics allude to the designs of William Morris.

A Japanese aesthetic is hinted at by the presence of a small framed image depicting a seated shogun and slatted blinds, and a combination of elaborate wooden lattice work, stained glass windows and soft leather seat pockets draw influence from various international sources.

However, according to Mitooka, dissecting each individual detail is missing the point. “The key lies in the overall balance of the design. It is the enigmatic quality that adds intrigue, stimulates the mind and fuels the imagination. The focus is not on ‘knowing’ and recognizing the specific influences, but rather on the holistic experience.”

FUNCTIONAL FEATURES  In line with industrial design principles, the decorative aspects must align with the practical functionalities. The inclusion of a wheelchair elevator required some smart engineering. The space had to be carefully utilized to ensure patients could ascend and descend safely with a caregiver.

Power sockets are strategically placed to facilitate the utilization of patient support equipment, such as ventilation machines, while discreetly positioned oxygen tanks are conveniently stored in a cabinet for easy access when required. To enhance safety measures, wooden handholds have been thoughtfully placed throughout the bus, providing additional security for passengers.

Following its arrival in early 2023, the bus has become an integral part of the hospital’s “narrative” offerings. It has indeed created a buzz of excitement and anticipation among patients and their families. The bus is skillfully manned by a dedicated team of drivers, soon to be joined by a knowledgeable tour guide, all of whom will be donning custom uniforms designed by Mitooka himself. 

Dr. Fuke’s vision is to provide severely chronically ill patients with disabilities and illnesses to witness the beauty of the changing seasons. Even if patients cannot walk, they can ride the bus in a wheelchair to view the vibrant cherry blossoms or the striking autumn foliage. While these experiences will undoubtedly leave a lasting imprint on the patients’ stories, the true essence of Narrative 1881’s impact lies in the captivating interior that intertwines seamlessly with the picturesque vistas beyond its windows.