Publication List of this Subject

This study group has investigated a period of roughly 120 years, from 1868 to the 1980s, and provides a thorough account of the history of the development of modern transportation in Japan. The group was particularly concerned with the contribution that technological innovation made to the modernization of road, river, coastal, and rail transport.
When the Meiji government came to power in 1868, the industrial revolution had long been under way in England and several other countries. Compared to the countries that were well into the age of railroads, Japan lagged behind in inland transportation. To close the huge gap effectively and in as short a time as possible, the government had to push strongly for the modernization of coastal and river transport as well as the construction of railroads. In carrying out this modernization policy, the government put great effort into preventing the advanced countries from investing in the Japanese transportation industry and controlling it, fearing that involvement of the Western countries in Japanese transportation would jeopardize Japan’s political independence.

In fact from the start, Japanese railroad construction was characterized by adherence to political requirements, a feature that remained in being until the mid-1980s.

While inland water transport gradually declined and was taken over by railroads and trucks, a modern shipbuilding industry developed rapidly and in the early 20th century Japan became the third largest shipbuilder in the world and an exporter of ships.

The period from 1910 to 1921 was one of great progress for Japanese heavy industry and one in which Japanese transportation technology became able to stand on its own two feet. During this period most rolling-stock and steamships, including locomotives and large ships, were being built domestically. In the 1920s and in the first half of the 30s, an independent domestic production technology was created so far as the production of locomotives was concerned, and the period may even be called the golden age of railroads.

Motor vehicles were imported into Japan at the beginning of the 20th century, but it was not until the 1920s that they emerged as a significant mode of public transportation. Motor vehicles made by Ford and GM dominated the Japanese market until the mid-1930s. It was only after the mid-1950s that the domestic motor-vehicle manufacturers showed conspicuous progress.

The start of Shinkansen (“bullet train”) operations in 1964 was epoch-making. It is noteworthy that the Shinkansen made use of state-of-art automation technology not only in rolling-stock but also in signal and safety equipment. Despite the success of the Shinkansen, motor vehicles overtook railways, in terms of the share of passengers and freight carried, in the early 1970s. This development in turn made it necessary to improve road networks and to solve environmental problems caused by motor transport.