Construction of new railway lines in Japan progressed
rapidly from the late 1800s due to competition between the
government and private railways, but most private lines were
nationalized by 1908 to become part of the government
network. Some 40 years later in 1949, the government
railways were again restructured into the public corporation
called Japanese National Railways (JNR). Almost 40 years
later again, the 1987 JNR privatization and division split the
business into six private regional passenger operators (the JRs) and one freight operator.
Today, passenger railways in Japan consist of 20,000
km of tracks belonging to the six JRs and 3250 km
belonging to 22 non-JR private railways; some 550 km belong to public railways.
Modernization of Japan
Japan’s first major contact with the west was the introduction
of firearms in 1540 by shipwrecked Portuguese sailors not
long after Europe entered the Age of Exploration. Firearms
changed conventional battles using archery and swords
between the regional warlords who were fighting for
hegemony in Japan. Christianity introduced at the same time
did not fit Japan’s feudal politics and was outlawed in 1612
by Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542–1616). Japanese were prohibited
from overseas travel in 1635 and the only contact with the
Western world was limited trade with the Netherlands at the Dejima settlement in Nagasaki.
This isolation ended in 1854 with the arrival of
American Commodore Perry in the Black Ships, but the
West’s advance into Asia would have a profound impact
on Japan. The political regime changed in 1868 from the
military Tokugawa Shogunate to the Meiji government with
the Meiji Emperor as head of state, which focused on rapid modernization to catch up with the West.
Stations of Early Railways
The new government aimed to secure a footing as a modern nation using a policy of increasing wealth and military power by industrial modernization. Construction of railways forming a key transport infrastructure for industry was an urgent issue.
Japan’s first railway (28.9 km) was opened in 1872,
47 years after the first steam railways in Great Britain. It
was built by British engineers and ran between Shimbashi
and Yokohama with a journey time of 53 minutes stopping
at six stations. To Japan at the time, building a nation
that could stand on an equal footing with the rest of the
world meant westernizing, and architectural styles were ostensibly Western.
The terminal stations at Shimbashi and Yokohama were
designed by Bridgens, an American architect. Although they
were different in scale, both exteriors resembled the Gare de l’Est in Paris. Each had ticket windows, waiting rooms, left luggage offices, and toilets–they were the first chance for ordinary people to experience Western culture freely.
Japanese railways were built by the government and
private entrepreneurs competing for routes mainly in and
around Tokyo and Osaka. At the turn of 1900, private
railways had nearly twice the track length of the government
railways. However, the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War
(1904–05) resulted in nationalization of most key private lines
for military reasons, instantly reversing the position to some
7200 km of government lines and 700 km of private lines.
A key feature of early Japanese railways was that they
were constructed mainly to carry passengers, so many
early stations were simple single-storey wooden structures
because transport volumes were inconsistent. In 1898,
the Railway Bureau presented standard design drawings
dividing stations into five classes. Many stations were probably built based on these drawings.
|Photo: Shimbashi Station (1872) (The Photographic History of 100 Years of Japanese National Railways, the Railway Associations)
Photo: Paris Gare de l’Est (opened 1851) (Author)
|Design of New Stations
Construction of elevated and electrified urban railways
started in the 1900s. The industrialization at that time created
significant increases in numbers of urban rail commuters,
requiring stations compatible with the new railway facilities.
Yurakucho Station opened in 1910 was Japan’s first under the-elevated tracks station.
Tokyo Station was completed in 1914 as the central
station for Japan. It was designed by Kingo Tatsuno (1854–1919) but the floor plan layout is said to have been proposed
by Franz Balzer (1857–1927). It had an entrance on the south
side and an exit on the north side, as well as a gate for the
Imperial household at the centre. Trains running towards this station were (and still are) described as going ‘up’ and those running away were going ‘down.’
The third floor was destroyed in an air raid during WWII,
and the station has been used with a two-storey ‘temporary’
restoration for 65 years until recently. Construction to restore
the station to its original three-storey form with cupolas at the
north and south ends is ongoing, with completion scheduled
for spring 2011 (see pp. 6 to 13 in this JRTR issue).
With steady exports during WWI (1914–18), many
second-generation and later stations were beautiful blends of
Japanese wooden and Western architecture. Unfortunately,
most were lost to later station upgrades and only a few
survive today. The major facilities at those times were ticket
windows, waiting rooms, and left luggage offices for long–distance
travellers. The average life-span of those stations was thought to be about 50 years.
An architectural section was first created in 1920
in the Ministry of Railways Construction Department.
It dealt primarily with building design and management. The first design standards for stations
were established, along with sizes for waiting rooms and passageways.
The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake caused tremendous damage across the Kanto region. As a result, stations were changed from wood or stone and brick structures to reinforced concrete and steel
with aseismic designs.
Ochanomizu Station was rebuilt to a new design
after the earthquake. It was completely different from
previous station structures because it was only for
commuters. Flows with passengers moving without
stopping by exiting directly to the street formed the
design foundation for later urban commuter stations.
Development of urban railways increased from
the 1920s. Elevated stations with concourses where
people pass freely under the tracks were built to
separate road traffic from railways. Kobe, San’nomiya,
and Hyogo stations in the Kansai region (around Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe) had the main part of the
station outside the elevated track. However, wide outer
concourses (outside the ticket gates) were created
under the elevation, and passengers passed through
the ticket gate to reach the platform. The broad outer
concourses had free passages to come and go under
the elevated track. Such a design allowed free access
and was easy to understand, so it was often seen in
Japanese under-the-tracks stations. Nagoya Station built in 1937 is a typical example.
|Photo: Virtualization of restored Tokyo Station (opened 1914) (1700 Profiles, JR East Design Corporation)
Photo: Old Sapporo Station (Third generation, opened 1908) (JR TOWER PHOTO BOOK, Hokkaido Railway Company)
Photo: Current Mojiko Station (Second generation, opened 1914) (Railway Architecture News, Association of Railway Architects)
|Birth of Station Building
Station buildings intended to increase passenger
convenience with restaurants and shops while increasing
railway operator income started appearing at the same time. The first station building in Japan was a five-storey building with 11,000 m2 of floor area built in 1920 at Umeda Station in the Kansai region by the private Hankyu Railway.
The ground floor was let to a department store; there were
restaurants on the first floor, and higher floors were used
for offices. This was followed in 1925 by the Tenjinbashi
Station Building added by the private Shinkeihan Railway
to an elevated station; it featured restaurants and shops. In
the Kanto region, Tobu Railway’s station building in Asakusa
in 1931 was the largest of its day with a department store
as the tenant. It had eight floors (one underground) with
an area of 35,000 m2. Trains arrived at the second-floor
platform, which was connected to the ground floor by an escalator.
|Figure 1: Ochanomizu Station (Second Generation, 1937)
Photo: Tobu Asakusa Station Building (opened 1913) (The 100-year History of the Tobu Railways, Tobu Railway Co., Ltd.)
|Diversification of Station Upgrade Methods
Japan’s WWII defeat in 1945 marked the star t of
reconstruction of bombed and worn-out facilities. The
government railways were reorganized as JNR with the sole
purpose of running railways. Restoration of key facilities,
such as tracks, took priority and there was little budget for station restoration.
The pace of urban reconstruction was astounding,
and demand from communities for station renovation was
strong because stations formed the town ‘face.’ In these
tight circumstances, private capital was used to fund station
reconstruction. Specific methods were local government
taking over JNR debt, constructing station buildings using
private capital (‘general public’ stations), and petitioning for
station construction using 100% private capital.
Petitioned stations were those where the community
requested that JNR construct new stations. The community
provided all funding, but completed facilities became
JNR property. In many instances, stations were built at
the expense of the developer, especially where there was trackside community development.
|Figure 2: Over–The–Track Station Evolution and Free Passageway
|‘General Public’ Stations
So-called ‘General Public’ stations were constructed mainly
by using private capital where commercial facilities and the
station merged into a station building and construction costs were recovered by income-earning facilities. Expenses for facilities intrinsic to stations, such as ticket offices, were
covered by JNR, while costs for waiting rooms, concourses
and toilets were split between JNR and the private developer;
costs for restaurants and shops were covered by the private
developer who retained the station facility management
rights. Toyohashi Station in central Japan opened in 1949
as the first general public station with the ground and
underground floors housing station facilities as JNR assets
and the first and higher floors as private assets where fees for property use were paid to JNR.
Many stations nationwide underwent renovation using
this general public station method. They are similar to
the station buildings built independently by JNR. JNR’s
previously government-regulated business scope was
relaxed in 1971 as debts worsened to allow JNR to construct
its own profitable station buildings. By the 1987 privatization
and division, JNR had converted about 50 stations into
station buildings. Naturally, private railways also actively developed station buildings with commercial facilities.
Japanese stations tend to be on one side of the tracks and
passengers pass through the ticket gate to access the
platform. As a result, station users from the opposite side
of the tracks must cross to get to the station. A method
to solve this inconvenience and to renovate stations
was building stations over the tracks and creating a free passage between the station sides.
JNR’s first over-the-tracks station was built in 1954. Many
stations thereafter were built in three concurrent parts: over the-track construction, passage construction, and station building construction.
The process started with a plan to construct a freepassage above the tracks to rejoin the community split by the station. Since the existing station interferes with construction of the free passage, the over-the-track station was constructed at the same time. Then the space freed up by relocating the ground-level station was used to construct the station building. The community bore most of the cost for the free passage and over-the-track station construction.
From one viewpoint, urban railways are an inconvenience
because the tracks divide the city. Track elevation at road
crossings is often required to make cross-track road transport
more efficient in densely populated urban areas. However,
track elevation is very expensive and JNR asked the Ministry
of Transport responsible for roads to bear some costs.
In the 1940s, JNR and the Ministry bore the costs equally but JNR’s burden was cut to 33% in 1956 and again to 10% in 1969, while the share borne by private operators was 7%.
Projects were implemented as part of urban planning, and
even today, elevation is used to create many new under-the-tracks stations.
The 1964 start of the Tokaido Shinkansen and subsequent
spread of the shinkansen high-speed rail network gave
the impression of well-managed railways but JNR was still
sustaining continued heavy losses year after year from1964 as passenger numbers continued dropping.
Out of JNR’s 22,000 km of track, 40% were rural lines with small populations; the rapid spread of private car ownership in the 1970s and decreases in railway passengers left income from the fare box unable to meet the costs of renovating stations, especially in rural areas. A countermeasure was needed.
Some stations playing a central role in the community but
that could never be commercially viable were downsized. In
these cases, the local government built a small complex of
other public facilities at the station, securing a presence for the station.
The first JNR station to be reconstructed on this basis
was Uzen-Mukaimachi Station (now Mogami Station) on
the East Rikuu Line. It was rebuilt in 1983 in combination with a public hall. Many similar measures were used to
develop stations with less than 5000 passengers a day
and to revitalize towns. A variety of stations have emerged
with tourist information offices, shops selling local products,
event facilities such as public halls and meeting places,
citizens’services such as libraries and galleries, hot-spring
baths, agricultural cooperatives, and food and gift shops.
Those used on a daily basis by local residents still remain vital and viable.
Hotto-Yuda Station on the Kitakami Line with hot-spring
baths serves just under 200 passengers a day, but the hot
spring had 500,000 customers in 4 years! The village
library with park-and-ride functions at Etchu-Funahashi
Station on the Toyama Chiho Railway Line loans the most books per citizen of any library in Japan.
|Factors behind Station Changes
Early railway stations were for long-distance passengers,
so the main facilities were waiting rooms and left luggage
offices. However, the increase in commuters using passes
changed the station floor plan from a waiting style to a
more fluid form. Station functions and features also evolved
according to customer character, railway company policy,
equipment advances, and social demands.
The biggest change involves the ticket gate. Seat
reservation systems started appearing with the spread of
computers in 1964. Ticketing facilities underwent a change
with concurrent advances in automatic ticket vending
machines and automatic ticket gates. Recent changes from
cardboard tickets to pre-paid IC cards have made route
changes and transfers easier. However, although mobile
phones and the Internet allow reservations to be made
easily outside the station, there is still some demand for
conventional cardboard tickets, hindering major changes in station layouts.
Left luggage handling has also undergone a major change. Railways no longer handle luggage transport; in Japan at least, private delivery companies have taken on that role. Temporary luggage storage has also shifted to coin lockers.
The greatest factor that has changed stations in recent
years is the legal requirement to become barrier free. In
2009, approx. 23% of Japan’s population was age 65
years or older, a figure unmatched elsewhere in the world.
Installation of elevators and escalators in stations handling
5000 or more passengers a day became mandatory with a
completion target of 2010. Now, there is a demand to install elevators in stations with less than 5000 passengers. For this reason, installation of people movers by modifying theconcourse in a way that does not interfere with passenger flow is underway. Many major station renovations have been made in conjunction with such construction work.
Another issue that has plagued railways for a long time
is providing passenger information. Methods including
monitors displaying information about train delays have
been tried. Today, the Internet is a convenient source of the
shortest routes and quickest transfers, but effective in-station
methods have yet to be achieved. The information has proved
particularly difficult for users to understand in stations with
commercial facilities due to crowding, displays mixed with
commercial advertisements, and high noise levels.
|Figure 3: Hotto-Yuda Station Floor Plan at Opening
Photo: (Railway Architecture News, Association of Railway Architects)
Figure 4: Etchu-Funahashi Station Floor Plan
As Japan faces a greying society, economic growth is
also stagnant. Primary industries in particular are declining
due to a lack of successors, and population continues to
concentrate in urban areas, causing rural depopulation.
Regional urban areas are also seeing a hollowing out of the
city centre with the development of large-scale suburban
commercial facilities. This has resulted in a remarkable
decline in the number of station users and poor business conditions for station buildings.
There have been various efforts to rejuvenate the community using station renovation.
Stations can be classified mainly as: metropolitan
stations where commercial facilities are viable; hollowed out
major urban area stations; regional city stations in the
process of deterioration; commuter stations in residential
areas; and mostly unmanned stations. For hollowed-out
major urban area stations, it is important to first stimulate
the community. Existing city areas are important assets,
and there is a movement to make use of that existing
infrastructure and change it into an urban structure meeting
the needs of the aging population. This has already been
started in Toyama and Aomori cities by forming a compact
city concentrating urban functions within walking distance of stations and transport hubs.
For regional city stations in the process of deterioration,
the station itself is often made into a local tourist destination
in addition to the aforementioned revitalization. Fortunately,
some railways have a firm railfan base, and stations in small
to mid-size cities have been made into distinctive scenery
using local subject matter and images as measures going
beyond revitalization. Recent typical examples are Kochi
Station on the Dosan Line covered with a large wooden
shed in 2008, Ryuo Station on the Chuo main line in a motif
of local crystal, and Iwamizawa Station constructed with used rails in 2009.
|Photo: Ryuo Station (1700 Profiles, JR East Design Corporation)
Figure 5: Kochi Station and Cross-Section
Photo: (Railway Architecture News, Association of Railway Architects)
Excluding freight, Japanese railways are structured so that
everything from infrastructure maintenance to train operation
is managed by the same company. The business mainstays
are commuters using passes in urban areas and inter-city high-speed shinkansen. These profitable sectors support regional transport.
As Japanese society becomes more aged, commuter
transport is expected to decline, and there is no telling what
will happen to railway operations. After the JNR privatization,
the JRs tried their hand at non-railway related real estate
development. It proved difficult to make profits due to lack of
know-how in that industry so now the JRs are using railway
assets connected directly to stations to secure non-railway
income. A notable example is the intensive use of the space above stations.
As mentioned above, private railways pioneered
station buildings, and JNR followed with general public
stations. JNR initially carried out intensive use of ground level
stations, but expanded to the space above tracks in
1962 with Tennoji Station. Development is also needed for
existing built-up areas in cities, and stations became multipurpose
in the 1980s with urban development projects by the national government.
Shin-Yokohama Station building opened in 2008 is a
recent example of reconstruction of station
plazas along with intensive use of the railway-owned
part of those plazas not previously zoned for use.
|Figure 6: Development of Over-the-Tracks Space at Shinjuku Station
Intensive land use and conversion to multipurpose
use with multi-functional facilities at
major stations in metropolitan areas are being
conducted actively by both private railways and
the JRs to the extent that they are forming towns
within towns. Underground space is being used
too. An example of a large commercial space on two underground levels under elevated
tracks is Hankyu Railway’s Umeda Station completed in 1969.
JR West’s 238,000-m2 Kyoto Station building
completed in 1997 is a typical multi-purpose
station, featuring a department store, hotel,
restaurants, theatre, museum, and government
facilities. It sports a grand open ceiling space in the
centre, a station concourse with an aerial hallway,
and various commercial facilities that share a large
open space. JR Hokkaido’s 274,000-m2 Sapporo
Station building also houses a department store,
hotel, offices, cinema, and more. It changed the
face of the commercial district in Sapporo, a city with a population of 1.89 million.
There are many other large multi-purpose
terminal stations owned by both the JRs and
private railways in cities with populations
exceeding 1.5 million, such as Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka.
|Photo: Kyoto Station (Author)
Photo: Kyoto Station concourse (Author)
Photo: Shops in inner concourse (ekinaka) of Tokyo Station (Author)
Japanese stations are commonly separated into an outer
concourse that anyone can pass through, and an inner
concourse where only passengers with tickets can enter.
The border is the ticket gate. Traditionally, the inner
concourse has cafes along with small kiosk shops selling
things passengers use on trains, such as magazines, snacks, drinks, and sundries.
Recently, there has been an increase in stations featuring
large shops, restaurants, and commercial areas selling
things such as authentic sweets and prepared foods in the inner concourse. Such areas are called ekinaka (literally ‘in the station’). Ekinaka have been developed especially
in stations with multiple lines where many passengers
transfer. They cannot fit into the conventional concourse, so
they have been built in conjunction with station barrier-free
renovations, etc. However, the ekinaka concept has been
criticized by some local shopkeepers because the railway
operator retains shoppers who would otherwise use shops around the station.
Japan’s shinkansen network is based on elevated tracks
with no level crossings, so most stations are under-the-tracks.
Shinkansen are constructed with public funds, so
only the minimum land needed for railway operation is
bought and the boundary of the stations must be within the
viaduct walls. As a result, it is difficult to design shinkansen stations with individuality.
Since the JNR privatization, shinkansen infrastructure
other than rolling stock is financed from the public purse and
then leased to the railway operator. As a result, the station
construction and environmental improvement, including the
station plaza, is up to the local government. New shinkansen stations often have memorable entrances, facilities to promote local tourism, and public facilities attached to the station when the local government sets up the station plaza. This demonstrates how the community has strong expectations that the shinkansen station will help stimulate the region.
|Future of Railways and Stations
Railways remain in tough competition with other transport
modes and railway operators are working to improve their
corporate image and the image of the lines by deploying
PR strategies to develop trackside tourism with the goal of
increasing passenger numbers and income. This is a unified image strategy encompassing diverse items ranging from crew uniforms and carriage design to design of stations, shops, and guidance.
Japan’s greying pensioners are also avid railway
travellers who can be targeted by railway operators offering
travel packages that satisfy their curiosity. As a result, there
are various planned travel products and railway membership programmes with premiums, such as discount tickets.
Station planning is changing alongside changes in travel
structure and social awareness. Women often select facilities based on the availability of clean toilets. Thus toilets in city centre
stations have been greatly improved and it is not
unusual for them to have powder rooms. While most toilets
in Japanese stations are free, they are mostly in the ekinaka inner concourse.
Eliminating level differences between the platform and
train is a natural safety measure. Other changes to the
platform include gradual restoration of waiting rooms that
were once on the decline and the installation of platform
doors on crowded platforms. Greening and use of natural
materials is also on the rise with today’s increased ecological
awareness. Efforts to conserve in-station energy and improve
the thermal environment, which were originally left to nature,
have started with partial cooling by mist being tried.
Another issue for the future is use of IC chips as
tickets. Mobile phones with prepaid IC chips are already
available, and the border between travel and consumption
is becoming vague as passengers’ behaviour changes as
features such as curated information, cashless purchase, online reservations, etc., become commonplace. From
the railway’s viewpoint, it is easier to collect information
on customers, and there will probably be advances in customized service provision.
|Photo: Powder room in ladies’ toilet at Ikebukuro Station (Author)
Photo: Ninohe Shinkansen Station and city tourism/produce centre and observation deck (Author)
|Passenger flow simulation
Stations must assure the safety of passengers so smooth
flow is important, especially during rush hours. However,
it is difficult to accurately judge the level at a given time in
crowded stations with heavy flows.
Research on how to plan Japanese stations, and how to
locate facilities appropriately and calculate the scale has been
conducted by the Railway Technology Research Institute
from the 1930s. Acceptable passenger densities, how to
deal with emergencies, and the required strength of station
handrails and other facilities are all examples of experience
gained from past accidents caused by overcrowding.
Passenger flow simulation using computers was
successfully achieved in 1978 to visualize flows second
by second, and it is still used today to determine the need
for station improvement, especially for crowded rush hour
stations with little space.
|Figure 7: Passenger Flow Simulation
In 1960, there was a plan to reconstruct Tokyo Station as
a high-rise building. JNR conducted research for 3 years
on the required aseismic design, because the height of
Japanese buildings at that time was still restricted to 31 m.
The research focused on switching from rigid structures to
flexible structures that absorb seismic energy.
Thankfully, Tokyo Station was not converted to a high-rise
structure, but Japan’s Building Standards Act was
revised in 1964 based on the results of JNR’s research. The
31-m height restriction was removed, and Japan’s first high-rise
building was born as the 147-m Kasumigaseki Building in 1968.