History of Japanese Railways (the Meiji Period) (日本の鉄道史 (明治))

The history of Japanese railways (the Meiji Period) covers the summary of the changes that took place from the end of the Edo Period to the end of the Meiji Period. During this period, along with the steam powered locomotive that was introduced from England and other advanced countries, the technology and know-how of these countries were used for domestic production, which led to the spread of networked railroads throughout Japan. Around this time, what began as a "curious technology from an advanced country" moved on to serve as a means of travel, an indispensable means of transportation for industrial development, and a tool for war and other functions. Refer to Japanese Railway History (the Taisho Period - early half of the Showa Period) for the remaining as well as Electric street car history.

Introduction of railways to the Japanese people.

In 1825, the railway that used steam engine was put in operational service the first time in England. This technology was brought to Japan 30 years later at the end of the Edo period (1853) as a steam engine model.

Origin of railway in England.

The world's first steam locomotive railroad was built to move coal that was produced in an English mine between Stockton and Darlington about the distance of 40km. The "Locomotion" designed by George Stevenson was used for the locomotive. The main use of this railroad was transporting coal and it could also be used to carry passengers in horse carriage if requested. Speaking about the track gauge, the international standard track gauge 4' 8 and a half inches (1435mm) was based on the track gauge used here. Full service passenger and cargo railroad service by Liverpool and Manchester Railway came on line in 1830 in England pulled by a locomotive "Rocket". From that time on, railways made progress in advanced countries as a bearer of industrial development.

Introduction of the model railway.

The first railway train in Japan was a model railway train brought over in a military ship. In July 1853, four Russian warships commanded by Evfimiy Vasil'evich Putyatin sailed into Nagasaki harbor and he negotiated the opening of the country to the world with Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). During his stay of almost over a half year, he invited a few Japanese guests on board to demonstrate a model steam locomotive in operation. The invited Japanese guests were Saemon no jo KAWAJI from Bakufu, Fujio MOTOJIMA and Kitasuku IIJIMA from Saga Nabeshima Domain and others. The feudal retainers of the Saga clan reported it to their Lord upon return and in February, 1855, two years thereafter, Saga clan completed a model steam locomotive. Following Nagasaki, a model steam engine locomotive ran in Yokohama in 1854, and although it was just a model, it carried a passenger (bakushin shogun's retainer, Yanosuke KAWADA) who rode over the roof. This model was presented to the Shogun as a gift from the President of the United States of America by Commodore Matthew Perry on his second visit to Japan.

Decision to build government-owned railways

In the following year of the Meiji restoration, the government decided to construct the government-owned railways and the construction of the railroad between Shinbashi and Yokohama was started.

A half month after the Decree for the Restoration of Imperial Rule in June 1867, a construction license for the railroad between Edo and Yokohama City was issued to American consulate secretary Aluse Portman signed by Nagayuki OGASAWARA, a bakufu roju (member of shogun's council of elders) and Gaikoku Jimu Sosai. This license was structured under the "foreign jurisdiction method" where the management rights belonged to the side of America. At the start of the Meiji Period, America requested the construction based on the license, but the Meiji Government declined the request on the grounds that the license was signed by Bakufu after the new government in Kyoto went into effect and it lacked a diplomatic authority. Subsequently the railroad construction was debated within the new government and in November 1869, and it was decided to construct the railroad between Shinbashi and Yokohama under its own control and management method. It was impossible for Japan to handle construction on its own, so they chose England to obtain technical and financial assistance. England was selected after being recognized for its technology as the country of origin of the railroads, and because the British Minister to Japan, Harry Burks gave a positive advice on Japanese railway. In the following year in 1870, Edmond Morell from England was appointed as chief architect and construction started. In 1871, Masaru INOUE (Father of Japan's railroad) joined the project from the Japan side by taking up the position of Mine and Railroad head.

Japanese railway was formally opened on September 12, 1872 between Shinbashi Station and Yokohama Station. However, it was actually operated between Shinagawa Station and Yokohama Station for test runs a few months prior to the formal opening day. It was a big success and in the year following the opening year, it made a big profit and most of the revenue was from the passengers fares.

Refer to the opening of Japanese railways for further details.

Initial rail lines

The track gauge selected for use that affected transportation capacity was the narrow gauge (1067mm) as opposed to the International standard gauge (1435mm). It was an appropriate decision considering Japan's circumstances at the time. Although a wider track guage allowed bigger trains to operate at faster speed, the drawback was that the wider gauge would cost higher construction expense. Especially considering the wider gauge required a wider curb and more space, the standard gauge was not affordable nor practical to the mountainous and financially poor Japan. The British colonies of South Africa and New Zealand adopted the 1067mm gauge. Other technical points are listed.

For actual construction, technology for castle construction was utilized, although only a wooden bridge over the present-day Tamagawa River was built under the supervision of an Englishman (which was replaced with an iron bridge in the 10th year of the Meiji Era).

All the trains were imported from England. All ten steam locomotives were tank locomotives with 1B axle arrangement comprised of the mixed products use from the five companies. Four of them were made by Sharp Stewart Co., Ltd. and were said to be easiest for operation.

Although all the trains had two axes and 10 upper class trains (18 seats), 40 middle class trains (26 seats) and 8 cabooses (train with hand-on brake) were imported, and just before the opening, 26 middle class trains were converted to the lower class trains (52 seats). Although the passenger train's chasis and frame at the time were build with iron, the main structure including walls and roof were wooden built and their modification was done by skilled Japanese master carpenters.

The engineers for the locomotive were foreigners. Also, the train timetable was done by an Englishman W. F. Page. Those foreign engineers were called "Oyatoigaijin" and received a high salary.

As described above, Japan's track gauge was the same as other colonies of England and 'England introduced 1067mm track gauge holding Japan in lower position', but those stories told were not true.

Business results

The year after the opening in 1873, it had an average of 4347 passengers a day and an annual passenger income of 420,000 yen plus cargo income of 20,000 yen and subtracting the direct operating expenses of 270,000 yen, it netted 210,000 yen. As a result, it was widely recognized as a lucrative business. The utilization ratio between passenger and cargo was due to the fact that there wasn't adequate preparation to handle cargo and there wasn't enough freight to carry just after the Meiji Restoration Period, when no modern day industries were yet fully developed.

Lines between Osaka and Kobe

The construction of the Keihanshin area progressed smoothly at the same time as that of the Keihin district, and a line between Osaka Station and Kobe Station started operation on May 11, 1874. However, it was a temporary operation, and the formal opening ceremony took place in 1877 when the line was extended to Kyoto station.

A characteristic of the Hanshin Line was its crossing of several big rivers. In particular, tunnels were required to be dug underneath the riverbeds of the Ishiyagawa and Ashiyagawa rivers in order to cross as these were Tenjogawa (river that runs above the railroad track). The first railroad tunnel in Japan was Ishiyagawa Tunnel and built with bricks under the supervision of "Oyatoigaijin". The Ashiyagawa tunnel was build with the Japan's first double track standard. Also for the Jusogawa (Shinyodogawa), the Kanzakigawa and the Mukogawa, truss bridges were built, which were designed by England, an Englishman and fabricated in England. In 1876, the line between Kyoto Station (Omiya-dori temporary station at the time) and Osaka Station were opened in which Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe were connected.

Railroad in Hokkaido

Next, the first railroad in Hokkaido, state-owned Horonai Railway was completed between Temiya Station (later abolished) and Sapporo Station (later Temiya Line and Hakodate Main Line) under the supervision of an American engineer in 1880. The steam engine locomotives imported at that time were the Denda type made in America with an axis location 1C (JNR 7100 class steam locomotive with nick names of Benkei, Shizu and others) and some of them were preserved.

Era of the construction of major private lines

Despite being off to a good start, due to budget constraints from the Seinan War, all new railway construction was halted with the exception of the Tokaido main line (entire line opened in 1889) and a few others. Within the government, Masaru INOUE advocated a government-run railway but the government adopted the formation of a network of private railways with the government assistance under the direction of the Okura-kyo (Minister of the Treasury) Masayoshi MATSUKATA. The extent of the financial aid to private railways differed depending on the varying circumstances of the area of construction and was estimated to be given a careful consideration when the government made its decision.

Tokaido Main Line

The original line connecting Tokyo and Osaka was planned by way of the Nakasendo. This is because of the fact that Tokaido Road's prospering maritime shipping trade and its expensive prices meant that it was little used, and that there were strong objections from the Army based on the fact that Tokaido Road's proximity to the coast left it vulnerable to foreign attack. In 1883, despite having rough passage due to many dangerous spots, the construction of a line connecting Takasaki Station and Ohgaki Station began after the "Ordinance of a public bond for the Nakasendo Railroad" was issued. Thus in 1886, the change of the route to Tokaido was decided after the consultation among Railroad Director INOUE, Prime Minister Hirobumi ITO and the leading figure of the Army Aritomo YAMAGATA (all three were from the Choshu Domain). As a result, the construction for the Tokaido Line progressed with a high pace and the entire line was opened on July 1, 1889.

Hokkaido Coal Railway

In 1889, Hokkaido Coal Railway was founded by accepting a concession of then financially ailing state-owned Horonai Railway's lines and laid the lines that later became a part of the Hakodate Main Line, Muroran Main Line, and Ishikatsu Line. It mainly served to transport coal produced from the coal mines along the railway lines to the port of shipment.

Nippon Railway

Nippon Railway constructed the line that ran through the Tohoku region from Ueno Station to Aomori Station (later Tohoku Main Line). In 1881, the company was founded and in 1891, the line reached Aomori. The construction of this railroad was in line with the national policy and because of its anticipated financial red ink from the operation in the remote area north of Sendai Station, it received a generous government subsidy. Those subsidies provided by the government consisted of the construction interest payment (8% annum), guaranteeing 8% income profit, free government-owned land concession, private land concession after the government purchase and the land tax exemption on the land owned by the railroad company.

The route opened by this company between Maebashi Station and Akabane Station (later became Takasaki Line, Akabane Line, Yamanote Line) along with the state-owned railway line (Shinagawa Station - Yokohama Station) in 1885 made the first contribution to the industrial development by transporting raw silk and silk textile by providing a connection between the production area and shipping ports.

Sanyo Railway Company

Sanyo Railway Company laid the line (present Sanyo Main Line) between Kobe Station (Hyogo Prefecture) and Bakan Station (present Shimonoseki Station) via Hiroshima Station. It was founded in 1888 and it completed the line to Hiroshima in 1894. The Sino-Japanese War started in August this year, and military troops and supplies were transported from various places in Japan to Hiroshima and Ujina that became the shipping base to the Chinese continent. From September of the same year, the Emperor Meiji stayed in Hiroshima and the Imperial headquarters moved there to command the war. For transporting those people and goods, the transportation capacity of the government-owned Tokaido Line and private owned railways like Sanyo Railway Company and Nippon Railway was used. In Sanyo provinces, a good financial turnout was expected because of heavy traffic of people and goods from ancient times. As a result, the government subsidy was very small as compared to that which was given to Nippon Railway and it was limited to 2,000 yen per mile for the construction cost.

Sanyo Railway Company was known for its innovative management style and was quicker than the government-owned railway in operating an express railway service (1894), a dining car service (1899), and connecting sleeping cars (1900). It also placed an emphasis on transportation capacity by constructing its line with a track gradient of less than 10 per millimeter except one segment (at Senohachi in Hiroshima Prefecture at 22.5 per millimeter), a curve radius of more than 300 meters. Also they made 23 locomotives in their manufacturing plant as a sole private railway.

Kyushu Railway

Kyushu Railway was founded to lay the lines between Moji Station (present Mojiko Station) and Yatsushiro Station, Misumi Station, Nagasaki Station (Nagasaki Prefecture), the line extended from Kokura Station (Fukuoka Prefecture) to Ikuhashi Station (later Kagoshima Main Line, Misumi Line, Nagasaki Main Line, Sasebo Line, Ohmura Line, Nippo Main Line). It received government support equal to that which was given to Sanyo Railway. Under supervision of German engineer H. Rumushotteru and through the use of imported railway vehicles from Germany, the lines between Moji Station and Kumamoto Station, and Tosu Station and Saga Station were completed by 1891. From 1899 on, the cargo revenue exceeded the passenger revenue because of the coal transport from the Chikuho Coal Mines. It continued its financial stability and thus did not agree to nationalization in 1907.

Kansai Railway Company

Kansai Railway laid the line (a part of the line purchased from other companies) from Nagoya Station to Kusatsu Station along old Tokaido and the line separated at Tsuge Station via Kizu Station (Kyoto Prefecture) to Amijima Station (now abolished) and Minatomachi Station (later JR Namba Station). It was founded in 1887 and all lines were opened between Amijima Station, Kizu Station (Kyoto Prefecture) (abolished), Aichi Station (abolished), and Nagoya Station in 1899. Since it was in competition with the government-owned railway, it did not receive any construction subsidies from the government. The company competed with the government owned railway in speed and service such as speed competition between Osaka and Nagoya along with discounted fares and use of color bands below the windows for the class identification and myriad of other ideas to attract the passengers. Those ideas implemented were largely owed to Yasujiro Shima who later worked for the Railway Bureau.

Contributions of railways to Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War

Japanese railway was used for war during the Seinan War in 1878 the first time. It was operated only between Tokyo and Yokohama, and Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe however it was greatly effective in transporting troops and supplies to the shipping ports. The Sino-Japanese War fought between 1894 through 1895, and the Russo-Japanese War that began in 1904 and ended in 1905 were Japan's all out projects at the time and the railways greatly contributed to its war effort.

Sino-Japanese War

As mentioned above, the Sino-Japanese War erupted in the following month when Sanyo Railway reached Hiroshima. Hiroshima was the west terminal of the railway at the time and was the closest to the Chinese continent. The Meiji Emperor stayed in Hiroshima to command the war from the Imperial headquarters and the nearby Ujina port was used to serve as a shipping port to the continent. Troops and military supplies from various places were assembled in Hiroshima by using connections of the state-owned railway and the private railways.

Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War was bigger than the Sino-Japanese War and thus the railway transport for the military supplies exceeded far more than that was required for the Sino-Japanese War. In all, it transported amount reached 886,000 passengers, 138,000 horses and 262,000 tons of cargo. To achieve such a task during the war meant that regular railway service for civilians had to be cut back. However the large private railways defending their own territories was not helpful to execute the war effort. For example, Hirosaki Division known for its snow blizzard march incident was sent to the continent from Hirosaki Station to Fukushima Station (Fukushima Prefecture) which was operated by the government, then Fukushima to Shinagwawa which was operated by Nippon Railway, then Shinagawa to Kobe which was operated by the government, and Kobe to Hiroshima which was operated by Sanyo Railway and finally from Hiroshima to the continent by ship. To carry out such a transport operation required an elaborate arrangement between the railway companies, railway vehicle scheduling, fare settlement after the transportation and other myriads of related tasks. This formed a foundation for nationalization of the railways after the war.

Nationalization of railways

Nationalization of private railways in the Meiji Period went through a various stream of changes. During the economic depression in 1891 and 1899, an economically strapped private railway company asked the government to take over the company but it was turned down twice. Particularly in 1899, the government was preparing for the Russo-Japanese War and was financially unable to do so. The military (especially the Army) that learned the effectiveness of railway and the inconvenience caused by the autonomy of private railways during the Russo-Japan war expressed the need for nationalizing the railways. In March 1906, the Diet passed the Railway Nationalization Act and it was resolved that 17 major private railway companies including the five large private railway companies as described above were to be nationalized (purchased). The buyout started in October 1906 and was completed in October 1907. The total service distance of the government-owned railway before the buyout was 2,459km and the total service line distance after the buyout was 4.806km. The buyout decision was made based on priority given to the line that could become a part of the main artery line. Nankai Railway operated between Namba Station and Wakayama City Station, and Tobu Railway operated between Kitasenju Station and Kuki Station, and both were considered for the buyout at one time, but as there were Kansai Railway in Wakayama district and the lines operated by Nippon Railway in Northern Kanto district which were both the buyout candidates, they were excluded from the buyout due to budgetary constraints.

Post buyout transition.

After the buyout, all which became the "nationally owned railway" thus called Japan National Railways thereafter. The first benefit of nationalization was establishing a long distance service like a direct train service between Tokyo and Shimonoseki, and a direct train service between Ueno and Aomori via Ohu Main Line. Also, the utilization of railway vehicles were maximized in keeping up with the demand of the local seasonal change. On the other hand, it amassed a huge fleet of trains with 1,118 Model 174 locomotives, 3,067 passenger trains, 20,884 cargo trains and consequently faced an enormous difficulty for operation, maintenance, and repair. Afterwards, Japan National Railways went ahead with the standardization and domestic production of trains and equipment.

Domestic production

The first railroad was comprised of all foreign-made trains, track rails, and iron bridges while the tunnel digging, locomotive operation, and making of the timetables were conducted by foreign engineers. Japanese gradually gained technological skills as they learned from foreign countries and proceeded toward their domestic production in steps.

For tunnel construction, in 1880 the Japanese dug Osakayama tunnel between Kyoto and Otsu (664.8m) without the help of foreigners.

In 1879, the first Japanese engineer was born.

The domestic production of rail was achieved in 1907.

While the modifications of wooden passenger and cargo trains were done by Japanese craftsmen with woodworking skills from the start of the opening however, steam engine production made progress as they learned and gained the skills of modern technology.

In 1893, the domestically manufactured model 860 steam locomotive with an axis arrangement 1B1 tank machine was completed with a design and supervision by hired foreigners in Japan. It was domestically produced, but its major parts were imported.

In 1903, the Japan National Railways model 230 steam locomotive with an axis arrangement 1B1 tank machine was completed at Kisha Seizo founded by Masaru INOUE and his group.

In 1911, Japan National Railways model 6700 with an axis arrangement 2B Tenda machine was produced. This type was purely a domestic product designed by Japanese and 46 of them in total were manufactured at Kisha Kaisha and Kawasaki Zosen shipyard. All major parts as well as funnels were all domestically produced.

In 1911, 60 locomotives for large express trains, which were the last imported locomotives, were imported. The 4 models of imported steam locomotives consisted of 12 2C Tenda Japan National Railways model 8700 steam locomotives (England), 12 2C Tenda Japan National Railways model 880 steam locomotives and 12 Japan National Railways model 8900 steam locomotives (Germany), 24 2C1 Tenda Japan National Railways model 8900 steam locomotives (USA). With the exception of the 8700, all models used superheated steam which was the latest technology at the time and were placed in service to pull passenger trains on the Tokaido Line and Sanyo Line.