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Transportation in Japan






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176 (2010)
country comparison to the world: 34
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 144
over 3,047 m: 7
2,438 to 3,047 m: 44
1,524 to 2,437 m: 38
914 to 1,523 m: 28
under 914 m: 27 (2010)
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 32
914 to 1,523 m: 4
under 914 m: 28 (2010)
15 (2010)
gas 3,879 km; oil 167 km; oil/gas/water 53 km (2009)
total: 26,435 km
country comparison to the world: 11
standard gauge: 3,978 km 1.435-m gauge (3,978 km electrified)
narrow gauge: 96 km 1.372-m gauge (96 km electrified); 22,313 km 1.067-m gauge (15,235 km electrified); 48 km 0.762-m gauge (48 km electrified) (2009)
total: 1,203,777 km
country comparison to the world: 5
paved: 961,366 km (includes 7,560 km of expressways)
unpaved: 242,411 km (2008)
1,770 km (seagoing vessels use inland seas) (2010)
country comparison to the world: 47
Merchant marine:
total: 673
country comparison to the world: 16
by type: bulk carrier 152, cargo 31, carrier 3, chemical tanker 28, container 2, liquefied gas 63, passenger 12, passenger/cargo 120, petroleum tanker 152, refrigerated cargo 4, roll on/roll off 52, vehicle carrier 54
foreign-owned: 1 (Norway 1)
registered in other countries: 3,064 (Bahamas 93, Belize 1, Bermuda 2, Burma 1, Cambodia 2, Cayman Islands 19, China 2, Cyprus 19, Honduras 4, Hong Kong 84, Indonesia 7, Isle of Man 15, Liberia 102, Malaysia 4, Malta 5, Marshall Islands 41, Netherlands 1, Panama 2347, Philippines 82, Portugal 9, Saint Kitts and Nevis 3, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 3, Sierra Leone 3, Singapore 146, South Korea 15, Thailand 2, UK 4, Vanuatu 44, unknown 4) (2010)
Ports and terminals:
Chiba, Kawasaki, Kobe, Mizushima, Moji, Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo, Tomakomai, Yokohama


In 1872, passenger service began with a steam locomotive that linked Shimbashi station, in Tokyo, to the nearby city of Yokohama.  This set the stage for a nationwide rail network.  After 17 years, a railway system was established that linked the main cities along the old Tokaido (Eastern Sea Route) so that a person could travel from Tokyo to Osaka by train.  Now, along with the development of automobile and air transportation, important railway services have gradually shifted to long-distance intercity transport, such as the Shinkansen and commuter lines.  Commuter lines carry people from their homes in the suburbs back and forth to work.

Of the total 1,142,000 km of roads in Japan, 73% is paved.  Construction of expressways (toll roads) began in the 1960's and has faced many challenges: the nature of the terrain, high concentration of factories and housing, high land prices along the routes, and added reinforcement needed to withstand earthquakes.  Construction costs are the world's highest and therefore, the tolls are also high. 

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After WWII and until 1951, the Japanese government was deprived of its authority to permit passenger airlines by SCAP (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers).  Because of this, international and domestic airlines didn't start until 1953. 

The beginnings of a national railway system started in 1872 with the connection by steam locomotive of Tokyo to Yokohama.  Seventeen years after this accomplishment there was a link from Tokyo to Osaka by train, a trip that took 20 hours to complete.  With the introduction of diesel and electric trains, time was shortened considerable to a mere 6 1/2 hours.  Later on the bullet train "Shinkansen" reduced it even more by completing it in under 3 hours.

Not stopping with the mainland, a connection was made by rail linking Honshu to the northern island of Hokkaido.  This was accomplished by building the world's longest undersea tunnel undersea tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel.  Honshu was also linked to Shikoku Island that same year with the Seto Ohashi Bridge which was built over the Inland Sea.

Transportation by rail has decreased with the invention of cars and airplanes, thus a change to long-distance intercity transportation and commuter lines.  Commuter lines are rails that take people to and from work in the suburbs.  Since the cost of living is tremendous in the city, people are moving to the suburbs in order to find acceptable housing that is a reasonable cost.  The price they pay is more time spent waiting while commuting to work and back.

In Japan, there are nine cities that have subway systems with the first one starting in 1927.  Many subways also link with commuter lines to reach out to the suburbs as well. Japan is also looking into linking the publi and private transportation systems.  Further rail developments include a light rail transit (LRT) which was initiated in Kumamoto in 1997, this is the first one operated in Japan.

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In 1899, the first automobile was brought into Japan and by 1902 they were producing their own.  Although the Japanese manufactured cars, the majority were used commercially or for public transportation.  Private ownership didn't really get popular until the 1960's.  Three reasons made this possible: rapid financial growth brought on by economic development; smaller, more fuel efficient cars targeting private owners; road improvements.  In 36 years, from 1960 to 1996, car ownership increased from 1.5 million to over 72 million.  Now it is common for families to have two cars and truck use has increased in the delivery and commercial area.

Toll road construction began in the 60's and the first one completed in 1965 linked Nagoya to Kobe.  This road was named the Meishin Expressway which was rapidly followed by the Tomei Expressway which added Tokyo to the connection.  These roads, and the many other expressways linking suburbs to the downtown areas, are managed by the Japan Highway Public Corporation.  The JHPC doesn't have an easy job because there are many factors to take into account when constructing roads in Japan.  The terrain is not conducive to easy road construction, high factory and housing concentration -which causes heavy traffic in those areas, expensive land, and certainly not to be forgotten, earthquakes -which require added reinforcement in the roads.  Because of these factors, Japan's construction costs are the highest in the world and therefore, the toll roads reflect that in their usage fees.

Not surprisingly, Japan's metropolitan areas are areas of congestion with the high traffic volume and traffic safety has been a problem since the explosion of private ownership in the 60's.  Along with this congestion comes air pollution from the automobiles' exhaust.  Japanese manufacturers are working on developing hybrid cars which are expected to reduce pollution. 

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International and domestic airlines didn't get started in Japan until 1953.  This was due to the fact that after World War II, the Japanese weren't allowed to have passenger airlines by order of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP).

Haneda, Tokyo International Airport, was Japan's first commercial airport and it first opened in 1931.  Until the opening of the New Tokyo International Airport in 1978, it was both a domestic and international airport.  With the opening of the New Tokyo International Airport, Narita Airport, it is about 65 km outside Tokyo.  38 countries, as of 1997, with a total of 50 airlines used the airport.  It is Japan's largest airport and handles over 25 million passengers per year and a little over 1.5 million metric tons of air freight.  These incredible numbers put it at sixth in the world for passengers and first in the world for freight.

Kansai International Airport, which opened in 1994 handles most of the domestic flights and all of the international flights to the Kansai regions.  This airport, which replaced the Osaka International Airport, Itami Airport, is actually on an artificial island and operates 24 hours a day.


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