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Click on the map or on the list for the railways in each region
See below for history of railways in Japan

Please click on a region of Japan Hokkaido Tohoku Kanto Chubu Kansai Chugoku Shikoku Kyushu Okinawa


The first railway in Japan opened in 1872 between Tokyo and Yokohama, a distance of about 123km. Much of the equipment, including the locomotives, was provided by British manufacturers, hence the choice of 3ft 6in (1087mm) gauge, at that time popular for new railways in the British colonies as being more economical than the standard (4ft 8½in or 1435mm) gauge.

This remained the predominant gauge throughout Japan until the latter part of the 20th century by which time a network of well over 20000km had been constructed. A few lines were built to other gauges, notably several urban railways in the Tokyo area, which used a 1372mm gauge that had been adopted for the early Tokyo tramway system.

In 1964 the first shinkansen High Speed Line opened between Tokyo and Osaka. It was built to standard gauge and operated at speed of up to 210km/h, unprecedented for a normal service train at that time and transforming long distance rail travel in Japan. The Shinkansen network now totals around 2400km and operates at speeds of up to 320 km/h.

The National Railways system was privatized in the 1980s and split into regional groups. There are also a large number of independent railways. For details of railways in each of the regions, click on the map or on the list.

Shimbashi Station, Tokyo
The original Shimbashi station in Tokyo, from a nishiki-e by Utagawa Hiroshige III
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Image of Shimbashi station from Wikipedia