The History of Japanese Transportation

Jan 4th, 2009 | By | Category: History & Culture, Museums, Osaka, Tokyo and Vicinity

Japanese Historical Modes of TransporationThe evolution of the Japanese transportation system got off to a slow start due to the isolation that preceded the Meiji Period in Japan. The main means of transportation in order of use in Japan are the trains or railways, followed closely by the use of bicycles and lastly by automobiles. The image to the left depicts the various forms of transportation in use in the late 1900’s in Japan.

To learn more about the history of Japanese transportation you will want to visit some of these great museum locate in various areas of the country.


The first railway line in Japan commenced operations in 1872 and linked Shinbashi and Yokohama.  Today, if you attached all of the train tracks in Japan together they would take you two-thirds of the way around the world or approximately 27 thousand kilometers.

Learn about the history of Japan’s train system at the impressive Railway Museum in Saitama City, Chiba Prefecture (approximately 45 minutes out side of Tokyo) or at the  Modern Transpiration Museum in Osaka.


The first company to produce bicycles in Japan was Miyata Industry Co. who began bicycle production in 1890 and is still in operation.  Today the bicycle is the most common means used for running errands in and around your neighborhood and for commuting to the nearest train station.

Learn more about the history of this human powered form of transportation at the Bicycle Museum & Cycle Center near Osaka.


The first domestically produced gasoline powered vehicle in Japan was the Takuri, built in the early 1900’s, but Japan relied heavily on imported vehicles until the start of WWII.  Today, many people in Japan do not own cars and rely on the efficient and sprawling train network to get around.

Visit the Toyota Automobile Museum in Nagoya or the Classic Car Museum in Hakodate, Hokkaido to learn more about the history of the automobile in Japan and the see the first Takuri produced.

Other Modes of Transportation

Prior to the industrialization and modernization of Japan’s transportation system the most common means of transportation was on foot or on horseback.  Eventually the rickshaw and the palanquin were imported from other parts of Asia.

The Edo Tokyo Museum offers a visitors some insight into these forms of transportation and life in the days of Edo.  Until February 1, 2009 you can also see the special Beautiful Palanquins exhibit at the museum.

As an island nation, Japan has always relied on water transportation and the Michinoku Traditional Wooden Boat Museum in Aomori (Tohoku region of Japan)offers exhibits and information on ancient boat building techniques use in Japan.

Image Credit:  Wikimedia, Kuruma zukushi

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  1. Interesting that prior to the Meiji Restoration, the commoners were only allowed to travel by foot. Commoners were not allowed to travel by horse or horse drawn wagon.

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