Transportation and telecommunications-Japan
Transportation and telecommunications-Japan
Until the latter part of the 19th century, the majority of Japanese people traveled on foot. Vehicular traffic was limited to small wagons, carts, or palanquins (kago) carried by men or animals. The first railway was built between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1872, and others soon followed, though the rugged terrain required the construction of many tunnels and bridges. Iron ships were built about the same time, and modern ports were constructed. Road construction, however, tended to lag behind the development of other means of transport, resulting in the present congestion of most urban areas.
Japan now has one of the world’s most developed transport and communications networks. Tokyo especially is an incomparably large focus for transportation; also important are the Keihanshin metropolitan area—which includes the three cities of Ōsaka, Kōbe, and Kyōto—and Nagoya. Other cities—notably Kita-Kyūshū, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Sendai, and Hiroshima—function as regional hubs.
The largest volume of intercity or interregional transport of both passengers and goods moves between the two largest metropolitan regions. Kyushu is connected with Honshu by the world’s first undersea railway tunnel (built in 1941), by an undersea double-decked road tunnel (built in 1958), and by a huge suspension bridge (opened in 1973). With the opening in 1988 of a railway tunnel between Hokkaido and Honshu and of multiple-span railway-road bridges between Honshu and Shikoku, all four of Japan’s main islands are now linked by surface transport.
ROADS The development of Japan’s road network lags behind the country’s general economic progress and is especially inadequate for the large number of cars. Road construction is hampered by the limited area of land in proportion to population. The first limited-access expressway opened in the early 1960s, and by the early 21st century a growing network of such highways had been built throughout the country. The metropolitan regions of Tokyo and Ōsaka have fairly extensive expressway networks within their respective built-up areas. Surface street patterns in Japanese cities are manifold, however, and often hamper the flow of traffic. Cities such as Kyōto and Nara still preserve the gridiron street pattern of the ancient Chinese city plan, though with modifications in built-up inner parts of the cities. In many rural areas as well, the ancient pattern of land division and the resultant road pattern take the rectangular gridiron form. Feudal towns, especially fortified (castle) towns, may have somewhat similar street patterns, though in many cases these are modified (generally in the form of concentric rings) to follow former defensive lines.
Japan has an extremely high density of motor vehicles per unit area in the plains and in other inhabited areas. Trucks represent a much higher proportion of vehicular traffic than in other major motorized countries. The great bulk of domestic freight transport is by truck. Many families now have two or more automobiles and are more likely to drive to a destination than in the past, resulting in road congestion in the big cities and in industrial areas. Although railways still play the major role in carrying commuters, there appears to be no practical solution to the problem of how to reduce the number of cars on the roads. The increases in noxious exhaust gases and in the noise of the traffic are serious problems. Steps taken to alleviate them include stringent pollution-control standards for automobiles and the installation of noise barriers on highways in densely populated areas.
RAILWAYS Railways play an extremely important role in passenger travel, though they continue to give way to competition especially from road transport but also from air travel. The first Japanese rail line was financed by the British and built by British engineers. Although there was strong opposition to its construction, because many opposed the expansion of foreign economic and political influence, the development of a modern rail network was an early and farsighted goal of the government after the Meiji Restoration (1868). The first streetcar line was constructed in Kyōto in 1891 and used the electricity from the country’s first power station. In subsequent years Japan developed extensive intraurban and suburban railroad systems; the period between the two World Wars in particular was one during which many railroad lines to the suburbs were built to serve the needs of growing numbers of middle-income people. In 1927 the first subway was built in Tokyo’s downtown district, and over time it was expanded into one of the most extensive systems in the world. Subways subsequently were built in most of Japan’s largest cities.
The mainstay of the country’s extensive passenger rail network is the Japan Railways (JR) Group of companies that was formed in 1987 when the state-run Japan National Railways (JNR) was privatized. The jewel of the JR Group’s operations is the high-speed Shinkansen (“New Trunk Line”). The first trains began operations in 1964 on the New Tōkaidō Line, named for the Tōkaidō, the ancient highway between Kyōto and Tokyo, which provides frequent service on an electrified double-track route between Tokyo and Ōsaka. This original Shinkansen line subsequently was extended by lines westward to Fukuoka on Kyushu and northward to Hachinohe in far northern Honshu; branchlines also have been built to several cities on Honshu, and part of a line that eventually will link Fukuoka and Kagoshima on Kyushu has been completed. In order to compete with growing passenger air transport, speeds on the Shinkansen lines have been increased. In addition, the JR Group has conducted extensive research and development on high-speed train operations utilizing magnetic levitation and propulsion.
There are dozens of other private railway companies operating outside the JR Group. Most of them are long-established regional operators of commuter train service and members of larger conglomerates engaged in diverse businesses. Congestion on commuter rail transport has remained a serious problem within the large cities. Although these commuter trains are renowned for their cleanliness, punctuality, and safety, most are extremely crowded during rush hours, with some trains carrying many more than the number of passengers for which they were designed. Services have been gradually expanded to cope with the high demand.
PORT FACILITIES Japan is one of the world’s principal seagoing countries and has one of the world’s largest merchant fleets. Although total annual shipping to and from Japan has continued to rise, the Japanese shipping sector has declined steadily since the 1970s, both in terms of cargo tonnage hauled and number of ships. Shipowners have been forced to streamline operations and scrap ships in order to cut rising operating costs. As a result, foreign charters and ships of foreign registry have risen in use.
Japan has engaged in seafaring since early times, but large modern trading ports were not developed until the second half of the 19th century, after the country had reopened to foreign trade following a period of near isolation from the rest of the world. The first of these, Yokohama and Kōbe, remain Japan’s leading trade entrepôts, the former being the outport of Tokyo and the latter the outport for Ōsaka and Kyōto. Other important modern ports include Chiba, Nagoya, Kawasaki, Kita-Kyūshū, Mizushima, and Sakai.
AIR TRANSPORT Before World War II, air transportation in Japan was considerably restricted, but, since the foundation of Japan Airlines (JAL), commercial air travel to both domestic and international destinations has become commonplace and widespread. Despite competition by railways, especially the Shinkansen, the volume of domestic air transport has continued to increase. In addition to JAL, the country’s other major airline is All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd., and there are several smaller carriers.
All metropolitan areas in Japan are connected by air routes. Tokyo is the main centre of the country’s domestic and international air travel, followed by Ōsaka. Other major airports are in Nagoya, Sapporo, and Fukuoka. The growth in air travel has severely strained the country’s airport capacity, despite the addition of new airports on artificial islands near Ōsaka (1994), Nagoya (2005) and Kōbe (2006) and expansion at existing facilities in Tokyo and Ōsaka.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS The Japanese networks of telecommunications and of postal services are among the best and most sophisticated in the world. The hundreds of islands, as well as the remotest villages deep in the mountains, are effectively linked by these services. Japan is now a world leader in the use of advanced telecommunications, including satellite and fibre-optic transmission networks. Per capita telephone ownership is high; although the number of landlines has steadily declined since the late 1990s, mobile-phone subscriptions have soared. The use of personal computers and connections to the Internet have become nearly universal throughout the country.
The government began privatizing the telecommunications industry in the mid-1980s, starting with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), provider of domestic telecommunications services. NTT became one of the largest private firms in the world, but in 1999 it was broken up into a number of subsidiary companies under the name NTT Group. Also at that time the monopoly on international telecommunications services that long had been held by the semipublic Kokusai Denshin Denwa (KDD) was lifted; KDD subsequently was wholly privatized, and, after a series of mergers, was renamed KDDI Corporation. A number of other private telecommunications companies also operate in the country.