Japan is a trainspotter's delight. Japan's modern, extensive and on the whole safe, rail network, made up of scores of private rail companies, stretches over approximately 20,000 km from Hokkaido to Kyushu.
Japan Rail History
Railways were first introduced to Japan in 1872 in the Meiji era modernization period when a 29-km line was built under British guidance from Tokyo (Shimbashi) to Yokohama. Before this in 1854, Commodore Perry had set up a model railway on the beach in Yokohama, which delighted and enthralled the Japanese dignitaries in attendance.
In 1874 a line was opened between Osaka and Kobe, which was extended two years later to reach Kyoto. Most railways in the early expansion period of the rail network in Japan were privately owned and financed, with only a few routes government operated.
JNR to JRs
In 1906, however, 17 private rail companies were purchased by the state. Post-war in 1949, all government-owned railways were reorganized as a public corporation - Japanese National Railways (JNR) .
Japan's first shinkansen (bullet train) line, 552 km in length, linking Tokyo and Osaka opened in 1964 in time for the Tokyo Olympics of that year. 1964 was also the first year that JNR made a loss, despite the new profits made by the shinkansen, and as the deficits grew annually into unsustainable debt, JNR was split up into regional groups and finally privatized in 1987.
JNR was broken up into seven new JR companies: JR Central, JR East, JR Freight, JR Hokkaido, JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku and JR West and the total number of employees was slashed from over 400,000 to less than 200,000.
The successor JR companies account for around 70% of Japan's total rail network with several regional companies making up the other 30%, operating mostly local and metropolitan commuter rail networks. The JR successor companies operate over 20,000 services daily.
Japan Private Rail Networks
The major regional private rail networks operate lines ranging in length from around 50km to 600km. Kintetsu in Kansai is the largest with around 570km of track, followed by Meitetsu centered in Nagoya with approx. 500 km of track, then Tobu in the Tokyo metropolitan area with about 450km of rail network.
The major Japanese private rail networks are listed below.
Tokyo and the Kanto Region
Trains from Tokyo to Yokohama, Haneda Airport and Kanagawa Prefecture.
Keio runs trains from Tokyo to areas west of Tokyo.
Trains from Tokyo to Narita Airport and Chiba Prefecture.
Metropolitan Intercity Railway Company
Trains (TX Express) from Akihabara in Tokyo to Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Trains from Tokyo to areas west of Tokyo, Hakone and Kanagawa Prefecture.
Trains from Tokyo to areas west of Tokyo.
Trains from Tokyo to Nikko and the area north of Tokyo.
Trains from Tokyo to areas south of Tokyo and Yokohama.
Western Japan and the Kinki Region
Trains from Osaka to Kobe and Kyoto. Hankyu has merged with Hanshin but the companies maintain separate identities.
Trains from Osaka to Kobe.
Trains from Osaka to Kyoto.
Kintetsu, the nation's largest network after JR, links Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Nara, and the Ise Shima area in Mie Prefecture.
Trains from Osaka to Kansai International Airport (KIX), Koyasan and Wakayama Prefecture.
Nagoya and the Central Japan (Chubu) Region
Trains from Nagoya to Gifu, Toyohashi, Arimatsu and Chubu International Airport.
Fukuoka and the Kyushu Region
Suburban trains from Fukuoka.
There are seven privately owned SL (steam locomotive) lines in operation in Japan.
Street cars or trams were once a feature of most Japanese cities in the 1940s after the first tram appeared in Kyoto in 1895, but on the whole light rail is in decline with services having been cut in Gifu altogether and Kyoto having just one line. Nagasaki, Okayama, Kumamoto, Hiroshima and Toyohashi still run street car networks with the total network nationwide now around 250km.
JR Rail Pass
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Saturday, December 30, 2006
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