Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 13 (Front cover & p.3)

Front Cover

Photo: Mt. Fuji as represented in Hiroshige's Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road around 1830 (exhibited at Tokyo Station Gallery, Jan-Mar 1996), and as seen today from the Tokaido Shinkansen
(H. Morokawa)


Japanese Lessons

Japan surprised the world in 1987 by splitting up and privatizing its deficit-ridden national rail network. Ten years later, the newly-founded JRs are providing better services to their customers with much smaller workforces and improved safety records. Apart from the still-accumulating JNR old debts, which were taken over by the government, the reform has been a success at least in terms of improved service and efficiency. Many foreigners admire this achievement and try to learn some direct lessons from it. The Japanese are also so proud of the success that they tend to believe blindly that it is a panacea for all ailing national railways.
It was indeed a drastic change. However, it was the inevitable consequence of many failures in the previous decades by the government, politicians, JNR management, trade union leaders, and the media. In short, Japan failed to adapt JNR to the changing transport market, because nobody understood the real significance of the growth of motor and air transport, which deprived the railway of its monopoly. Inadequate and late rehabilitation plans failed successively, and the ill-fated JNR was finally driven to bankruptcy and dissolution. Because of such failures, the reform had to be radical. The true lessons can be learned from the long history of prior failures rather than from the success story of 1987.
T. Suga