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Japanese Government Railways: Map


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Tokyo Station, the centre of the JGR network
The Japanese Government Railways (JGR) was the national railway system directly operated by the central government of Japanmarker until 1949. It is a predecessor of Japanese National Railways and the Japan Railways Group.


The English name "Japanese Government Railways" was what the of Japan (established in 1920) used to call its own and sometimes the ministry itself as a railway operator. Other English names for the government railways include Imperial Japanese Government Railways and Imperial Government Railways, which were mainly used prior to the establishment of the ministry. This article however covers the railways operated by the central government of Japan from 1872 to 1949 notwithstanding the official English name of the system of each era.


By the end of World War II in 1945, the Japanese Government Railways operated on the main Japanese islands of Honshūmarker, Hokkaidōmarker, Kyūshūmarker, Shikokumarker and Karafuto. The railways in Taiwanmarker and Koreamarker were operated by the local Governor-General Offices and were not part of JGR.

Total operating distance of JGR as of March 31 of each year
Year Distance

recorded in miles until 1930, when

JGR adopted the metric system
mi km
1906-07: railway nationalization
1931 14,574.9
1941 18,400.0

While the JGR was the only major operator of intercity railways after the railway nationalization in 1906-07, privately owned regional railways were also active.

The gauge of the railway was 1,067 mm (narrow gauge) with minor exceptions (184.2 km total in the peak years of 1936-38) of 762 mm gauge lines.


The first railway in Japan was operated by the imperial government in 1872. The governmental system was largely expanded by the promulgation of the Railway Nationalization Act in 1906. In 1920, the Ministry of Railways was established.

In 1949, JGR was reorganized to become a state-owned public corporation named the Japanese National Railways.


  • June 12, 1872 - Provisional opening of Tokyomarker-Yokohama railway (Shinagawa Stationmarker - Yokohama Stationmarker)
  • October 14, 1872 - Formal opening of Tokyo-Yokohama railway (ceremony at Shimbashimarker and Yokohama Stations)
  • October 1, 1907 - Completion of nationalization of 17 private railways under 1906 Railway Nationalization Act
  • December 20, 1914 - Opening of Tokyo Stationmarker
  • November 1, 1925 - Inauguration of the Yamanote Loop Line
  • April 1, 1943 - Inclusion of Karafuto prefectural lines into national system
  • February 1, 1946 - Official exclusion of Sovietmarker-occupied Karafuto lines from national system
  • June 1, 1949 - Establishment of Japanese National Railways, i.e. end of Japanese Government Railways
  • April 1, 1987 - Privatization of JNR, establishment of seven JR companies

Historical operators of JGR

Before the establishment of the Japanese National Railways as a public corporation on June 1, 1949, the Japanese Government Railways were operated by the governmental agencies. The table below shows the historical operators of the JGR.Translated names of ministries may not be official. Names of the operating department generally mean "department (or office, section, agency) of railways" or like.

Date of

Ministry Department Note
1870-04-19 鉄道掛 (Tetsudō-gakari) in charges of construction only
1871-09-28 鉄道寮 (Tetsudō-ryō) First railway opened in 1872.
1877-01-11 鉄道局 (Tetsudō-kyoku)
1890-09-06 鉄道庁 (Tetsudō-chō)
1893-11-10 鉄道局 (Tetsudō-kyoku)
1897-08-18 鉄道作業局 (Tetsudō-sagyō-kyoku) Tetsudō-kyoku survived as an administrative body for private railways till 1908.
1907-04-01 帝国鉄道庁 (Teikoku-Tetsudō-chō)
1908-12-05 鉄道院 (Tetsudō-in) Government Railways were commonly called .
1920-05-15 Government Railways were commonly called .
1943-11-01 鉄道総局 (Tetsudō-sōkyoku)

Tourism promotion

One of the roles of the Japanese Government Railways was to attract foreign tourists to Japan. In 1930, the government created the as a section of the Japanese Government Railways (Ministry of Railways). The Board printed and distributed picture posters and English guidebooks overseas and encouraged development of resort hotels at home. The Board was dissolved in 1942, following the breakout of the Pacific War in 1941.

Notable people

  • Inoue Masaru - Head of the government railways between 1871 and 1893
  • Hirai Seijirō - Head of the government railways between 1904 and 1908
  • Gotō Shinpei - Head of the government railways between 1908 and 1911
  • Takejirō Tokonami - Head of government railways in 1920s and early 1930s
  • Eisaku Satō (Prime Minister of Japan in 1960s) - serves as a railway official between 1924 and 1948


  1. :ja:国鉄の特殊狭軌線 (Japanese Wikipedia), retrieved on 2009-04-06
  2. Ishino, supra, p. 42, vol. I

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