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147 Year History of Japan Railways

Rail Transport In Japan

The entire Japan is covered by an extensive network of railways. Rail transport in Japan is an important means of transport and communication for Japanese people. Japanese as well as foreigners can easily avail trains as a convenient way to travel around Japan.

About 30% of rail transport in Japan is owned by private railway companies while the remaining 70% is operated and owned by Japan Railways, which were privatized in 1987.

The first railway route in Japan was opened between Shinbashi and Yokohama on 14th October, 1872. Since the late nineteenth century, Japanese private railway companies came forward to take the responsibility of Japan’s railway system. Nippon Railway Company, founded in 1881, was the country’s first private railway company.


History of Japan Railways

Japan’s railway network is operated by more than 100 private rail companies including six Japan Railways Group, JR Freight Company, 16 regional companies and 12 local private companie.

Though the first railway service was provided by the British locomotives, in early 1900s Japan began manufacturing its own locomotives. 1906 is an important year in Japan’s railway history because Railway Nationalisation Act was passed in this year bringing several trunk lines under government control.

Japanese National Railways Company, a state-owned corporation, helped to restore the railways after damage made by the Second World War.

The Tokaidu Shinkansen project was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award on 14th October, 1964. Unlike Japan’s present railway line, the Shinkansen which was new trunk line was established on international standard gauge taking fund from the World Bank. This project was quite economic.

Kokutetsu started researching on superconducting magnetic train Maglev that might complete the journey from Tokyo to Osaka in an hour. Maglev, which is still running in Japan, is one of the historic trains.

The Sanyo Shinkansen line was constructed between Osaka and Okayama in 1972.

Japan’s national railways were privatised in 1987. Many non-profitable local lines were closed. So, several jobs were cut. However, developments didn’t stop here. New bullet train lines were constructed like Akita, Nagano Shinkansen in 1997 and Kanazawa in 2015.

A Brief History of Japan’s Railways

The history of Japanese railways can be divided into four stages:


Japan Government planned to construct a railway from Yokohama to Tokyo taking fund from the British. In 1872, the first railway line was built between Shimbashi and Yokohama. British engineer Edmund Morel supervised the first railway construction on Honshu.

British engineer Edmund Morel, American engineer Joseph U. Crowford and German engineer Herrmann Rumschottel trained Japanese engineers to take the responsibility of Japan’s railway projects.

In 1889, Tokaido main line was constructed. The Railway Construction Act was promulgated in 1892. In 1893, the first locomotive was established in Japan. 1895 saw the opening of Japan’s first street car in Kyoto.


South Manchuria Railway was founded in 1906. 17 private railways were nationalised in between 1906 and 1907. Light Railway Act was passed in 1910.

1914 saw the opening of Tokyo station. Yamanote Loop line was introduced in 1925. 1927 witnessed the opening of the first subway in the east namely Tokyo subway. The first metric system was adopted in 1930.

During Second World War, Japan adopted 24-hour clock. Though Japan opened Kanmon tunnel that connected Honshu and Kyushu in 1942, Second World War caused severe damage to Japanese railways.


Japanese railway Station was founded as public corporation in 1949. After completion of electrifying Tokaido Main line in 1956, Ueno Zoo Monorail was inaugurated in 1957.

The first EMU Express, Kodama, and the first DMU Express, Hatsukari, started its journey in 1958 and 1960 respectively. The first Shinkansen line was opened between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka in 1964. Great Seto Bridge, which connected Honshu and Shikoku, was opened in1988.

1987- Present

The JR Group after privatisation improved their services. There is a fierce competition between railway operators. The main features of rail transport in Japan are efficiency, safety, punctuality and capacity.

Linimo is the first Maglev metro in the world. It was debuted in 2005. SCMaglev achieved its world record speed of 603 km/hr in 2015.

The Various Timeline of Japan Railway

  • 1872: This was the year when the first railway of Japan, between Shinbashi, Tokyo and Yokohama was opened for the first time.
  • 1881: The first private railway company of Japan called the Nippon Railway was opened.
  • 1882: The first Horonai railway in Hokkaido was opened.
  • 1888: The first Iyo railway in Shikoku was opened up in this year.
  • 1889: The first Kyushu railway was opened up in Kyushu.
  • 1889: The Tokaido main line was completed.
  • 1893: The first locomotive of Japan called the Class 860 steam locomotive was constructed in Japan.
  • 1895: The first streetcar of Japan called the Kyoto was opened up for the first time.
  • 1895: Japan first acquired the Taiwan railway in this year.
  • 1899: The Keijin railway which is considered to be the first railway of Korea was opened.
  • 1906: The first railway in Karafuto was opened.
  • 1906: The South Manchuria Railway was first founded in this year.
  • 1906 - 1907 : Between these years, as many as 17 private railways were nationalized.
  • 1914 : The Tokyo station was for the first time opened in this particular year.
  • 1925: The Yamanote line was inaugurated in this year.
  • 1927: The first subway of the East, the Tokyo subway opened up in this year.
  • 1942: The Kanmon tunnel connecting the Kyushu and the Honshu was opened up for the first time in this year.
  • 1945: This was the year when the world war II was ended and it resulted in the railways getting severely damaged.
  • 1949: In this year, the Japanese government railways were taken up by the Japanese National Railways that is a public corporation operated by the state.
  • 1956: The electrification of the Tokaido main line was completed in this particular year.
  • 1958: The first EMU Express running between Tokyo and Osaka are known as Kodama was opened up in this year.
  • 1960: The operation of the first DMU Express between Ueno and Aomori is known as Hatsukari started.
  • 1964: The first Shinkansen line between Shin-Osaka and Tokyo was opened up in this particular year.
  • 1975: The steam locomotives retired from all the JNR services and the switchers continued till the year 1976.
  • 1980: The JNR Reconstruction Act which is a low profit line was abandoned in this particular year.
  • 1987: The Japan railway Group Companies or the JNR was privatized in this year.
  • 1988: The Seikan tunnel that connected the Hokkaido and the Honshu was opened.
  • 1988 : The Great Seto Bridge that connected the Shikoku and the Honshu was opened up in this year.

Interesting Statistics about Japanese Railway

  • The busiest train station in the world is Shinjuku Station, which services around 3.6 million passengers every day.
  • Japan is a home of 45 most trafficked railways stations out of 51 busiest railway stations in the world.
  • Tsushimanomiya Station opens just two days a year for business purpose.
  • Chiba Urban Monorail System, which runs 9.4 mile track, is the longest suspended rail system in the world.
  • Every bullet train has an automatic brake for earthquakes.
  • The Seto Ohashi Bridge connecting Okayama Prefecture to Kagawa Prefecture is the longest train bridge (5.8 miles long) in the world.

Japanese Railway Construction

The Japanese trains are very comfortable. The different trains of different quality are running on the same route. Trains have both first class seats and second class seats. Seats are arranged in a face to face pattern.

One special feature of Japanese train is that train system is automated. In Tokyo no drivers are found in trains. Batteries used in the electric motor-diesel hybrid trains are rechargeable.

JR and private rail companies continue to construct new lines and improve railway system.

Japanese Railway Developments

The entire country is covered by railway lines. Trunk lines are seen along the entire coast line of Japan. Trunk lines and main lines run from north to south. These are cross-connecting lines that connect all important cities of Japan.

Technology of Japanese Railway

Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) was established in 1942 to conduct researches on Japanese railways.

After Second World War, RTRI required the skill of top engineers to restore Japan’s railway system. Several technologies were introduced from foreign countries. Some engineers of JNR (Japanese National Railways) developed the Tokaido Shinkansen.

The Nationwide Shinkansen Law was passed in 1970. In this law, there was a plan to establish a Shinkansen network measuring 7000 km throughout Japan. In 1979, Shinkansen train would run with a high speed of 319km/hr.

JNR improved safety and services on traditional narrow gauge lines. The early 1980s witnessed improved bogies and car-leaning control mechanisms.

JNR introduced automatic ticket wickets to reduce labour costs. Maglev Technology was invented by Japan in 1963. In 1972, ML100 was the first linear motor test vehicle. In 1979, ML500 attained a world record speed of 517km/hr.

Train Service In Japan

There are three types of trains in Japan namely Shinkansen or bullet trains, daytime trains and night trains.

Shinkansen Trains

Shinkansen trains include Asama, Hakutaka, Kodama, komachi, Tanigawa, Tsubasa, Toki , Yamabiko etc. Komachi attains high speed of 320 km/hr. Komachi bullet train runs in between Tokyo and Akita.

Daytime Trains

Among daytime trains, limited express, express and rapid trains deserve special mention.

Aizu Liner, Ashizuri, Haruka, Super Hokuto, Hitachi, Inaji, Kaiji are some of limited express trains.

Chichibuji, Moriyoshi and SL Express are express trains.

Rapid trains are Acty, Kitami, Marine Liner, Rabbit, Tambaji Rapid Service, Tottori Liner etc.

Japanese train is a symbol of speed, efficiency, safety and technology.

Frequently Asked Questions


The Japan railways was founded by the British Engineers and financed by the British. British Engineer Edmund Morel supervised its construction.


The first railway line in Japan was introduced between Shimbashi and Yokohama on September 12, 1872.


The railway in Japan was introduced to offer inter-city and intra-city services.


The Japanese trains are always punctual because many people are catching many trains run by many private rail companies.


The first bullet train in Japan was introduced on 1st October 1964.


Hideo Shima, a Japanese Engineer, built the first bullet train in Japan.


Masaru Inoue is called the Father of Japan Railways.


The Japan Railways Group or JR Groups, a group of 7 for-profit companies, took over the operations of Japanese National Railways in 1987. Now JR Group is the owner of Japanese trains.


When an earthquake occurs, the bullet trains stop immediately to protect the train. There are two detection systems: first, seismograph at every substation along the bullet train line and, secondly, seismograph along the coastline.


The Railway Construction Act was promulgated on June 21, 1892 by the Diet of Japan.


The first electric train ran in 1925 on Yokosuka and Tokaido main lines.