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Technological Innovation and the Development of Transportation in Japan

Title: Chap. 8: New Developments in Transportation (1955-1980): Roads
Author: Yamamoto, Hirofumi
Publisher: United Nations University Press
Published Year: 1993
Table of ContentsMain Text (PDF version)

Chap. 8: New Developments in Transportation (1955-1980): Roads

The Development of the Motor-Vehicle Industry

During the postwar economic recovery, the motor-vehicle manufacturers resumed production centred mainly on the manufacture of small, three-wheeled lorries; beginning in 1955, a far-reaching renovation of plant facilities and equipment had begun. The four big manufacturers, Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu, and Hino, took out large loans from the government, the World Bank, and the United States Export-Import Bank to replace worn-out plants and equipment. This upgrading and the reorganizing of a highly trained workforce led to an explosion in productivity. The number of vehicles went from 162,000 in fiscal 1955 to 1,978,000 in 1965 and 11,176,000 in 1980 (see table 4). The number of vehicles owned climbed from 924,000 at the end of fiscal 1955 to 7,248,000 for 1965 and 37,972,000 for 1980 (table 5). The 1965 liberalization of trade in passenger cars and the 1971 liberalization of motor-vehicle-industry capital transactions brought on a period of intense international competition. Japan's exports rose rapidly from 1,689 in 1955 to 6,150,000 in 1980 (figures do not include motor cycles).
Table 4. Motor vehicles produced (1955-1980)
Table 5. Motor vehicles owned (1955-1980)

Progress in Motorization

Rapid progress in motor-vehicle manufacturing and increases in the number of vehicles brought concomitant increases in the share of motor vehicles in domestic freight and passenger transport. Freight transported by motor vehicle jumped from 9.51 billion ton-kilometres in fiscal 1955 (11.7 per cent) to 20.8 billion ton-kilometres (14.9 per cent) in fiscal 1960 and then to 48.39 billion ton-kilometres (26.0 per cent) in fiscal 1965. By fiscal 1966, lorry-transported freight had surpassed in volume and share train cargo (table 6). The railroads' share of the freight market peaked at 75 per cent in fiscal 1946, and then dropped every year thereafter. Quantity transported (ton-kilometres) peaked in fiscal 1970, falling off rapidly thereafter. By 1980, inland shipping and motor vehicles hauled the largest shares in the freight market.
The expansion of motor-vehicle passenger transport stands out; the 312.47 billion passenger-kilometres (50.6 per cent) reached in fiscal 1971 may be compared with the 290.04 billion passenger-kilometres (46.9 per cent) garnered by the railroads in that year. The gap widened year after year, with seemingly nothing able to stop the decline in railroad transport. Airline-passenger increases in the 1970s were also significant, rising in transport volume and share from 9.31 billion passenger-kilometres (1.6 per cent) for fiscal 1970 to 29.68 billion passenger-kilometres (3.8 per cent) for fiscal 1980 (table 7).
With the growth of road transport, the number of regional lorry operators and hired-car/taxi operators increased (table 8). Most companies in this category were small compared to long-distance lorry and bus operators (table 9). Only 0.3 per cent of regional lorry operators owned 201 lorries or more, 0.27 per cent had at least 301 employees, and only 1.1 per cent had at least \100 million in capital. As a result, however, "many of these companies undercut excessively on fares, overloaded their lorries, worked their drivers too many hours, and were, generally, obstacles to order in the transport market."1
The rate of traffic accidents went up dramatically, so that in the 15 years from 1955 to 1970, the number of accidents jumped 7.6 times, the number of deaths 2.6 times, and the number of injuries 12.8 times (see table 10). The rate of increase was greatest in the five years between 1955 and 1960 and was attributable to the inability to set up traffic safety equipment, such as signal lights, marked pedestrian crossings, and guard-rails, as fast as the manufacturers were turning out motor cars, lorries, and buses. Another factor was poor safety training for drivers and pedestrians. The result was more than 10,000 traffic deaths a year up to 1975. But, after 1970, the provision of safety facilities and stronger police enforcement of traffic rules paid off in an eventual downturn in accidents and fatalities. It was during the 1960s that the public first began to complain about noise and air pollution from motor vehicles, and in this decade rules against such disturbances were implemented.
Table 6. Volume of domestic freight by transport means (1955-1980) (in million ton-kilometres and percentages)
Table 7. Domestic passenger volume by means of transport (1955-1980) (in million passenger-kilometres and percentages)
Table 8. Trends in number of road transporters (1955-1980)
Table 9. Number of motor vehicle freight transporters, by scale (as of end March 1979)
Table 10. Traffic accidents (1955-1980)

Constructing Toll-roads and Motorways

Progress in motorization required the maintenance and construction of general and toll-roads, and the building of new national motorways. Construction of toll-roads began in 1952 when the Construction Ministry offered loans from the Special Operating Funds Account at 6 per cent annual interest to construction projects directly controlled by the ministry and at 6.5 per cent yearly interest to the prefectures to build or repair local roads that would be converted into toll-roads. However, the setting up of the Japan Highway Corporation in April 1956 led to the abolition of the traditional system of borrowing from operating funds for toll-road construction. At the time of its establishment, the Japan Highway Corporation took over 8 routes being constructed under direct control of the Construction Ministry and, between July and September 1956, it assumed control of 26 routes being built as a part of prefectural loan projects, and thus became the controller of toll-road integration. By means of continuing government-fund payments, subsidies, and highway bonds, the construction of general toll-roads and national motorways steadily progressed.
In addition to the improvement of existing roads and the creation of toll-roads, the Law on Motor-Vehicle Road Construction for National Development and the National Motorway Law were enacted in April 1957 in order to promote the construction of national motor-vehicle trunk routes running the entire length of the Japanese islands. Based on these two laws, and under the Japan Highway Corporation, the construction of national motorways made good progress. The construction of national motor-vehicle trunk routes able to withstand the high-speed operation of heavy, long-distance vehicles represented a contribution to national redevelopment quite different in character from that from the improvement of existing roads in order to create general toll-roads.
The creation of a national system of motorways began to be realized in 1958 with the construction of the Meishin (Nagoya-Kobe) Motorway. The stretch between Amagasaki and Ritto was completed and opened in July 1963, and the segment between Nishinomiya and Komaki was opened in July 1963. Construction of the Chuo Motorway, linking Chofu and Lake Kawaguchi, and the Tomei Motorway, connecting Tokyo and Nagoya, began in April 1965. The road between Tokyo and Atsugi was completed and opened in April 1968, that between Hachioji and Lake Sagami in December 1968, and that between Tokyo and Komaki in May 1969. All segments of the Chuo Motorway were completed and opened by November 1982.
As of 1 April 1980, the Tokyo Motorway Corporation, established in June 1959, had built 138.7 km of urban motorways, and the Hanshin Superhighway Corporation, established in May 1962, had built 103.3 km. The cities of Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Kita-Kyushu were also constructing urban motorways, under the direction of the Nagoya Motorway Corporation and the Fukuoka-Kita-Kyushu Motorway Corporation. Local road and public works corporations were also set up in each prefecture to construct and operate toll-roads as provided for in the Local Road Corporation Law, which was enacted and put into force in May 1970. Table 11 shows the extent of roads that are controlled by these organizations.
Fig. 3. Network of national motor-vehicle motorways (March 1985)
Table 11. Extension of toll-roads as a result of the Road Law (April 1980)


1. Japan National Trucking Association, Torakku yuso sangyo no genjo to kadai (The situation in the lorry transport industry and its problems), p. 20.