Rail transport in Japan

Rail transport in Japan

Rail transport in Japan is a major means of passenger transport, especially for mass and high-speed travel between major cities and for commuter transport in metropolitan areas.


Six Japan Railways Group (JR) companies, state owned until 1987, provide passenger service to most parts of Hokkaidō, Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū; the seventh JR company carries freight. Many private rail companies rank among the top corporations in the country. Regional governments, and companies funded jointly by regional governments and private companies, also provide rail service.

There are 27,268 km of rail crisscrossing the country. JR (a group of companies formed after privatization of JNR) controlled 20,135 km of these lines as of March 31, 1996, with the remaining 7,133 km in the hands of private enterprized local railway companies. Japan's railways carried 22.24 billion passengers (395.9 billion passenger-kilometres) in fiscal 2006.cite web| url= http://toukei.mlit.go.jp/10/annual/n1-1gaiyo.xls | title= Annual Report of Rail Transport Statistics | author= Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport | language= Japanese | accessdate= 2008-01-01 | format=Excel] In comparison, Germany has over 40,000 km of railways, but travels only 2.2 billion passengers per year. [Wikipedia article "Rail transport in Germany" (as of 2008-01-01)]

Fukuoka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo and Yokohama have subway systems. However, unlike Europe, the vast majority of passenger traffic is on suburban commuter trains that criss-cross metropolitan areas. In addition, many cities have streetcar and monorail networks.

Japan pioneered the high-speed "bullet train" or "shinkansen", which now links Japan's largest cities at speeds of up to 300 km/h (186 mph). However, other trains running on the conventional line or "zairaisen" remain relatively slow, operating at fastest 160 km/h and mostly under 130 km/h.

Japan's railways carried 51.9 million tons (23.2 billion tonne-kilometres) of goods in fiscal 2006. The share of railways in the national logistics is as small as 0.84% (2005). [cite web| url= http://www.mlit.go.jp/seisakutokatsu/census/8kai/houkoku8/rep8-3302.pdf | title= Investigation Report of National Net Mobility of Freight | author= Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport | month= March | year= 2007 | language= Japanese | accessdate= 2008-01-01 | format=PDF]


Railroads were long the most important means of passenger and freight transportation in Japan, ever since they were established in the late nineteenth century. Government policy promoted railways due to lack of fossil fuels and nearly complete dependence on imports. Rural land near large cities was acquired cheaply by private railways companies as early as the late nineteenth century, and then became the backbone for urban transport, suburban cities formed around train stations radiating out from metropolitan areas, similar to suburban growth around highways in other nations.Despite this planning, growing affluence made road transportation usage rival rail since the 1960s. The relative share of railroads in total passenger kilometers fell from 66.7 percent in 1965 to 42 percent in 1978, and to 29.8 percent in 1990. By contrast, automobiles and domestic airlines were carrying ever-larger shares of the passenger traffic in 1990, however railways still accounted for the largest percentage by far in the OECD. However, in the largest metropolitan areas in Japan: Tokyo (including Chiba, Saitama, Tokyo, and Kanagawa Prefectures), Osaka (including Kyoto, Osaka, and Hyōgo Prefectures), and Nagoya, railroad passenger share is much higher at 43.5% [as of 2001] . Private automobiles in Greater Tokyo still account for less than 20% of daily trips as walking, bicycling and buses remain extremely popular as well.


*1872 - Opening of Japan's first railway between Shimbashi (Tokyo) and Yokohama
*1881 - Foundation of Nippon Railway, Japan's first private railway company
*1882 - Opening of Horonai Railway, first railway in Hokkaidō
*1888 - Opening of Iyo Railway, first railway in Shikoku
*1889 - Opening of Kyūshū Railway, first railway in Kyūshū
*1889 - Completion of the Tōkaidō Main Line
*1893 - Class 860 steam locomotive, first locomotive built in Japan
*1895 - Opening of Japan's first streetcar in Kyoto
*1895 - Japan's acquisition of railway in Taiwan
*1899 - Opening of Keijin Railway, first railway in Korea
*1906 - Opening of first railway in Karafuto
*1906 - Foundation of South Manchuria Railway
*1906-1907 - Nationalization of 17 private railways
*1914 - Opening of Tokyo Station
*1925 - Inauguration of the Yamanote Loop Line
*1927 - Opening of Tokyo subway, the first subway in the East
*1942 - Opening of Kanmon Tunnel connecting Honshū and Kyūshū
*1945 - End of World War II; railways were severely damaged
*1949 - Foundation of Japanese National Railways as public corporation
*1956 - Completion of electrification of the Tōkaidō Main Line
*1958 - "Kodama", the first EMU express between Tokyo and Osaka
*1960 - "Hatsukari", the first DMU express between Ueno (Tokyo) and Aomori
*1964 - Opening of the first Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka
*1975 - Retirement of steam locomotives from all JNR services (switchers remained until 1976)
*1980 - Enactment of JNR Reconstruction Act ; low-profit lines were to be abandoned
*1987 - Privatization of the JNR; the Japan Railways Group companies succeeded the former JNR.
*1988 - Opening of Seikan Tunnel connecting Honshū and Hokkaidō
*1988 - Opening of Great Seto Bridge connecting Honshū and Shikoku

Classifications of rail transport in Japan

Types of operators


The Japan Railways Group, more commonly known as JR Group, is a group of successors of the government-owned Japanese National Railways. The JR Group lies at the heart of Japan's railway network, operating almost all intercity rail service and a large proportion of commuter rail service.

The six passenger operating companies of the JR Group are separated by region, but many operate long-distance train service beyond their regional boundaries. Freight service belongs to Japan Freight Railway Company or JR Freight which operates all freight network previously owned by JNR.

Major private railways

The following 16 companies are classified as the major private railways. [ [http://www.mintetsu.or.jp/corporate/index.html The Association of Japanese Private Railways] ]
* Tobu Railway
* Seibu Railway
* Keisei Electric Railway
* Keio Corporation
* Odakyu Electric Railway
* Tokyu Corporation
* Keihin Electric Express Railway
* Tokyo Metro
* Sagami Railway
* Nagoya Railroad
* Kintetsu Corporation
* Nankai Electric Railway
* Keihan Electric Railway
* Hankyu Corporation
* Hanshin Electric Railway
* Nishi-Nippon Railroad

Other railways

Other railway operators include
* City governments,
* "Third sector" companies funded jointly by regional governments and private companies, and
* Other minor private railway companies.

Railway and tram

In the legal sense, there are two types (with several subcategories) of rail transportation systems in Japan: nihongo|railway|鉄道|tetsudō and nihongo|tram|軌道|kidō. Every public rail transportation system under the governmental regulation in Japan is classified either of railway or tramway. In principle, trams lay tracks on the road and railways do not, but the choice may seem rather arbitrary in cases. For example, Osaka Municipal Subway is a tram system while subways in other cities are railways. [Cite book
author = Kokudo Kōtsū Shō Tetsudō Kyoku
title = Tetsudō Yōran (Heisei 17 Nendo)
year = 2005
language = Japanese
publisher = Denkisha Kenkyūkai
location = Tokyo
isbn = 4885481066
pages = p. 228

Railways and trams are respectively regulated by the nihongo|Railway Business Act|鉄道事業法|Tetsudō Jigyō Hō|Act No. 92 of 1986 and the nihongo|Tram Act|軌道法|Kidō Hō|Act No. 76 of 1921.

Three categories of railway

Under the Railway Business Act, operations of "railways" (in the legal meaning) are divided into three categories: Category-1, Category-2 and Category-3. [cite web
url = http://www.jrtr.net/jrtr27/s48_ter.html
title = Railways in Japan—Public & Private Sectors
author = Kazushige Terada
accessyear = 2007
accessdate = August 1
] They are defined as follows [ [http://law.e-gov.go.jp/htmldata/S61/S61HO092.html#1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000200000000000000000000000000000 Railway Business Act (Act No. 92 of 1986), Article 2] ] :; nihongo|Category-1 Railway Business|第一種鉄道事業|Dai-isshu Tetsudō Jigyō : A business that provides transportation of passengers and/or freight by railway (which excludes tram defined in the Tram Act) meeting demands of others, except for Category-2 Railway Business.; nihongo|Category-2 Railway Business|第二種鉄道事業|Dai-nishu Tetsudō Jigyō : A business that provides transportation of passengers and/or freight by railway meeting demands of others on railway tracks except for those it lays (which include railway tracks laid by others and transferred).; nihongo|Category-3 Railway Business|第三種鉄道事業|Dai-sanshu Tetsudō Jigyō : A business that lays railway tracks for the purpose of transferring to an operator of Category-1 Railway Business and a business that lays railway tracks and lets such railway tracks be exclusively used by an operator or operators of Category-2 Railway Business.

Most of railway businesses in Japan are Category-1. Examples of Category-2 Railway Business include the major part of the operation of Japan Freight Railway Company and the JR Tōzai Line operation of West Japan Railway Company. Examples of Category-3 Railway Business include Kobe Rapid Transit Railway and the prefecture of Aomori in Aoimori Railway.

Common features of Japanese railways

Gauge and electrification

The rail system of Japan consists of the following (as of 2005) [ [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html CIA - The World Factbook -- Japan] ] :
* 3,204 km of 1,435 mm standard gauge, all electrified;
* 117 km of 1,372 mm narrow gauge, all electrified;
* 20,264 km of 1,067 mm Cape gauge, of which 13,280 km is electrified;
* 11 km of 762 mm gauge, all electrified.

The national railway network was started and has been expanded with the narrow 1,067 mm gauge. Railways with broader gauge are limited to those built not intending to provide through freight and passenger transport with the existing national network. Shinkansen uses the standard gauge.

Electrification systems used by the JR group are 1500V DC and 20kV AC for conventional lines and 25kV AC for Shinkansen. Electrification with 600V DC and 750V DC are also seen in private lines. Frequency of AC power supply is 50 Hz in Eastern Japan and 60 Hz in Western Japan.

Tickets, fare and surcharges

Rail transport in Japan is usually for a fee. In principle a fare is pre-charged and a ticket is issued in exchange for a payment of fare. A ticket is inspected at a manned or automated gate in the station where a travel starts and is collected at the station where the travel ends.

A ticket required for a travel by railway is called a nihongo|fare ticket|乗車券|jōshaken, the price of which is nihongo|fare|運賃|unchin. The fare ticket is valid regardless of number of transfers. Long-distance travellers are allowed unlimited number of nihongo|stopovers|途中下車|tochū-gesha along the route subject to the duration of the validity of the fare ticket. In addition, a ride on a specific train and/or coach may require a nihongo|surcharge ticket|料金券|ryōkinken.

Except for very short railways and some tram systems with a flat fare, fare varies by distances or number of zones travelled. The pricing based on the time of travel (peak or off-peak) is not common in Japan. nihongo|Children fare|小児運賃|shōni-unchin for children between 6 and 12 is half of adult fare. Recent development in the fare collection system is the stored-value card systems shared by multiple operators in large cities, such as Suica and PiTaPa, by which passengers can avoid consultation with complicated fare tables and lineups for ticket machines before each train ride.

There are many types of surcharges. For example, in JR, surcharges include:
*nihongo|Express fee|急行料金|kyūkō ryōkin for travel on an "express train"
*nihongo|Limited express fee|特急料金|tokkyū ryōkin for travel on a reserved seat of a "limited express train"
*nihongo|Non-reserved limited express fee|自由席特急料金|jiyūseki tokkyū ryōkin for travel on a non-reserved seat of a "limited express train"
*nihongo|Reserved seat fee|指定席料金|shiteiseki ryōkin for travel on a reserved seat of trains except for a "limited express train"
*nihongo|Green fee|グリーン料金|gurīn ryōkin for travel on a special coach called "Green Car"
*nihongo|Bed fee|寝台料金|shindai ryōkin for travel on a sleeping car

Types and names of trains

Suburban or intercity railway lines usually set several nihongo|types of trains|列車種別|ressha shubetsu with different stop patterns.

A train that stops every station is called a nihongo|local train|普通列車|futsū-ressha. Only a fare ticket is required to ride local trains. Trains faster than local trains are classified as nihongo|Rapid|快速|kaisoku, nihongo|Express|急行|kyūkō, nihongo|Limited Express|特急|tokkyū, etc. and may require surcharges depending on company policies. Limited Express is faster than Express. Railways with many types of trains use prefixes like "semi-", "rapid-", "section-", or "commuter-". For example, the Tōbu Isesaki Line has Local, Section Semi-Express, Semi-Express, Section Express, Express, Rapid, Section Rapid, and Limited Express.

Train operators usually name long distance trains (Kintetsu is a rare exception of this practice). The process of ticket reservation utilizes the train names instead of the train numbers. Train numbers are almost exclusive for professional use.

Railway lines

All the railway and tram lines in Japan are named by the operators. In principle (with some exceptions), a section of railway has only one name. Line names are shown on a ticket to indicate the route of the ticket. Passengers refer the railway by the name of line (e.g. "Tōyoko Line") or the name of operator (e.g. "Hanshin").

The line names may come from a name of destination or a city along the line (e.g. the "Takasaki Line" goes to Takasaki, Gunma); a name of region (e.g. the "Tōhoku Main Line" goes through the Tōhoku region); an abbreviation of provinces or cities (e.g. the "Gonō Line" connects Goshogawara and Noshiro); or a course of the line (e.g. the Tōzai Line means the East-West Line).

A line was a unit of the restructuring of the Japanese National Railways in 1980s. The railway business was evaluated line-by-line so that too unprofitable lines were abolished. This left some unnamed branch of trunk lines, which would be abolished if they had own line names, alive.

Since the operation route of the railway may have been changed but the historic line names may have not changed, the operation route can be named with the word "line" but differently from the original line names. The examples include the Keihin-Tōhoku Line and the Shōnan-Shinjuku Line.

ubways and light rail transit

In addition to its extensive railroads, Japan has an impressive number of subway systems. The largest is the Tokyo subway, where the network in 1989 consists of 211 kilometers of track serving 205 stations. Two subway systems serve the capital: one run by the Tokyo Metro (named Teito Rapid Transit Authority until 2004), with nine lines (the oldest, Ginza line was built in 1927), and the other operated by the Tokyo metropolitan government's Transportation Bureau (Toei), with four lines. Outlying and suburban areas are served by seven private railroad companies, whose lines intersect at major stations with the subway system. More than sixty additional kilometers of subway were under construction in 1990 by the two companies.

There are a number of other metro systems in other Japanese cities, including the Fukuoka City Subway, Kobe Municipal Subway, Kyoto Municipal Subway, Osaka Municipal Subway, Nagoya Subway, Sapporo Subway, Sendai Subway and Yokohama Subway.

While metro systems in Japanese cities are usually operated by the city government and therefore tend to limit their networks within the city border, there are many cases of through services of subway trains onto suburban railway lines and vice-versa. One of the reasons of this trend is the sharp increase of ridership on the railways in the rapid growth of postwar economy that could not be handled by small original railway terminals in the city center.

Automated guideway transit (rubber-tired motor cars running on concrete guideways) has also developed in Japan. Cities with such intermediate capacity transit systems include Hiroshima, Kobe, Osaka, Saitama and Tokyo.

Some cities operate streetcar systems, including Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Nagasaki, Tokyo (one line only) and Toyohashi. All of these cities are also well served by public and private railroads; also, there are private tramways not included above.

Rail transportation in Japanese culture


Japanese railways are among the most punctual in the world. The average delay on the Tokaido Shinkansen in fiscal 2006 was only 0.3 minutes. [cite web|url=http://english.jr-central.co.jp/company/ir/annual-report/_pdf/report-2007.pdf|title=Central Japan Railway Company Annual Report 2007|pages=p. 14|accessdate=2008-06-24|format=PDF] When trains are delayed for as little as five minutes, the conductor makes an announcement apologizing for the delay and the railway company provides "delay certificate" (遅延証明書). Japanese passengers rely heavily on rail transit and take it for granted that trains operate on time. When trains are delayed for an hour or more, it may even appear in the newspaper. However, some argue that railway staff are under too much pressure from the public. These stringent standards are considered contributors to the cause of serious accidents such as the Amagasaki rail crash in 2005. [cite news|first=Norimitsu |last=Onishi|publisher = International Herald Tribune | title = "An obsession with being on time" | url = http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/04/27/news/japan.php |date = 2005-04-28 | accessdate = 2008-08-22]

Trains and crime

One of the most widely publicized crimes committed on trains is chikan or groping, taking advantage of overcrowded cars and a reluctance for people to ask for help, or to jump to the aid of another. Typically, the victim is female and the perpetrator male. A recent trend for railway companies to promote their lines is to service female-only cars on some trains (typically during morning rush-hours and late night trains, and often the front or back car) and is quickly becoming a standard practice, especially among Tokyo's busy commuter lines.

Trains are also used as a means to commit suicide. Its relative popularity is partly due to its practical ease, and to avoid causing a nuisance to one's family, though families are often charged or sued by the railway companies to compensate for the trouble caused by the accident. A typical suicide may cause delays between one and a few hoursFact|date=February 2007 on one or more lines. The costs to the surviving families by the railway companies' "delay fee" is often in the 100 million yen range. [ [http://mdn.mainichi-msn.co.jp/waiwai/archive/news/2002/08/20020817p2g00m0dm999000c.html "Paying for suicide costs more than the ultimate price"] , "Mainichi Shinbun", 18 August 2002, retrieved 28 October 2006]

The Japanese language has a number of expressions for unlawfully riding trains without paying the full fare. One is "Satsuma-no-kami." It is a reference to Taira Satsuma-no-kami Tadanori, a member of the Taira clan who is mentioned in the Tale of the Heike. His name, Tadanori, is pronounced the same as words meaning "riding for free."Another expression is "kiseru jōsha." This refers to a "kiseru", a smoking pipe that has a long hollow section made of bamboo between the bowl (where the smoke enters) and the mouthpiece (where it leaves) made of metal. Based on an association of metal and money, "kiseru jōsha" is the practice of using one ticket to enter the train system and a different ticket to exit, with a long unpaid segment in the middle.

Other notable crimes staged in railway facilities in Japan include the assassination of the Prime Minister Hara Takashi in Tokyo Station in 1921, the deliberate train wreck at Mitaka Station in 1949 and the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.


An important aspect of the romance of the rails in Japan is the "ekiben". Many stations (eki) around the country make special bento featuring local specialties such as seafood, meat or vegetables. Including generous portions of rice, the ekiben is a complete meal. It was often served in a wooden box; nowadays cardboard and plastics have become popular, although wooden chopsticks still accompany the ekiben. The Central Committee of the Japanese Association of Railroad Station Concessionaires (社団法人日本鉄道構内営業中央会) is a prominent trade organization promoting ekiben.


Japanese television features rail transportation in various contexts. Examples include travelogues visiting rustic routes or unusual trains, and murder mysteries on the sleeper trains.

Railways by region

ee also

*List of railway companies in Japan
*List of railway lines in Japan
*List of railway stations in Japan
*List of railway electrification systems in Japan
*Japanese railway signals
*Monorails in Japan
*List of defunct railway companies in Japan
*Transportation in Japan


External links

*jp icon [http://ekiben.or.jp Ekiben site]
* [http://members.aol.com/hisakyu/index_eg.html Hisakyu's Railway Guide]

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