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Subways in Japan

An Overview of Japanese Subway Systems

The Birth of the Subway in Japan

The first full-fledged subway line in Japan opened in 1927: The Tokyo Metro line between Ueno and Asakusa (approximately 2.2km). During a time in which steam trains were still the main form of locomotion, Tokyo Metro began developing the 1000 Series electric train for underground use.

The 1000 Series Electric Locomotive

【The 1000 Series Electric Locomotive】

The State of Subway Construction Site in the Early Showa Period

【The State of Subway Construction Site in the Early Showa Period】

Routes Expansion

In 1933 the first publicly managed underground railway – The Midosuji Line operated by Osaka City –began operation between Umeda and Shinsaibashi. From this point onwards, the subway systems in Japan began developing their routes expansion and commencement of new lines coinciding with urban development of Japanese cities, thus, in the 1950s and 60s, the development centered on large urban cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Then, new routes began operation in regional hub cities later.

These days, subways play a vital role in urban transportation infrastructure. From Hokkaido down to Fukuoka, areas of 12 municipal governments are home to subway systems, and nationwide there are 45 different lines, with route length of 800.5km in total, transporting over 16,050,000 people each day.

The Strength of the Subway

Regularity and High Speed

Subway systems are unaffected by severe weather conditions, such as typhoons, and as such can be relied upon to provide a regular service all year round. Furthermore, because they have the benefit of being able to take a comparatively direct route from A to B, they are a fast method of transport.


Due to the existence and continued development of advanced operation management controls systems including ATC (automatic train control), and the fact that there is no direct contact with pedestrians or road vehicles, the subway is a safe mode of transport with a low rate of accidents.

Consideration for the Environment

The amount of CO2 emitted by a train or subway train in carrying one passenger over a distance of one kilometer is eight times lower than the emission for an equivalent journey by a privately owned automobile, meaning the subway is an environmentally friendly mode of transportation.

The Weakness of the Subway

Relatively high Cost of Construction and Operation

However, despite these positives, there are downsides to the subway as a form of transport. Due to the specialized methods required, constructions costs are high, and daily inspection and maintenance requires significant labor. This means that subway systems are sustainable only for large urban centers.

Recent Developments

Nationwide use of IC Cards

In March 2013, a large portion of nationwide railways started reciprocal use of major IC transport passes,thus, in many subway systems nationwide, major IC transport passes became usable. In April 2014, accompanying the increase in consumption tax, the lowest fare unit in the Kanto region was lowered to 1 yen.

Construction of New Subway Line

There is currently one line under construction: Fukuoka’s Nanakuma Line, which is being extended and is due to commence operation in 2022.

An Overview of Publicly Managed Subway Systems

  City Name Number of Lines
Main Line Names
Route Distance
(After Extension)
2016 Passenger Numbers
(1000 Passengers per Day)
Transport Pass
Start Date of Operation
Sapporo 3 Main Lines Sapporo 3 Main Lines
Namboku Line (North - South),
Tozai Line (East - West),
Toho Line
48.0km 620 SAPICA 1971.12
Sendai 2 Main Lines Sendai 2 Main Lines
Namboku Line (North - South),
Tozai Line (East - West)
28.7km 229 icsca 1986.7
Tokyo Metro Tokyo Metropolitan Area
(Tokyo Metro)
4 Main Lines
Asakusa Line,
Mita Line,
Shinjuku Line,
Oedo Line
109.0km 2,668 PASMO 1960.12
Yokohama 2 Main Lines Yokohama 2 Main Lines
Blue Line,
Green Line
53.4km 646 PASMO 1971.12
Nagoya 6 Main Lines Nagoya 6 Main Lines
Including: Higashiyama Line,
Meijo Line, and others
93.3km 1,295 manaca 1957.11
Kyoto 2 Main Lines Kyoto 2 Main Lines
Karasuma Line, Tozai Line
31.2km 379 PiTaPa 1981.5
Kobe 2 Main Lines Kobe 2 Main Lines
Seishin Line, Yamate Line,
Kaigan Line
30.6km 307 PiTaPa 1977.3
Fukuoka 3 Main Lines Fukuoka 3 Main Lines Airport Line, Hakozaki Line, Nanakuma Line 29.8km
436 Hayakaken 1981.7

Private Management/ Part Public Management (Third Sector) Subway Overview

  City Name Number of Lines
Main Line Names
Route Distance
(After Extension)
2016 Passenger Numbers
(1000 Passengers per Day)
Transport Pass
Start Date of Operation
Tokyo Metro Tokyo Metro 9 Main Lines
Tozai Line, Chiyoda Line, Marunouchi Line, and others
195.1km 7,239 PASMO 1927.12
Osaka 8 Main Lines Osaka Metro 8 Main Lines
Including: Midosuji Line,
Tanimachi Line,
Sakaisuji Line, and others
137.8km 2,457 PiTaPa 1933.5
Saitama Rapid Railway Hokuso Railway 1 Main Line
Hokuso Railway Line
32.7km 487 PASMO 1991.3
Saitama Rapid Railway Saitama Rapid Railway 1 Main Line
Saitama Rapid Railway Line
14.6km 105 PASMO 2001.3
Toyo Rapid Railway Toyo Rapid Railway 1 Main Line
Toyo Express Line
16.1km 149 PASMO 1996.4
Hiroshima Rapid Transit Hiroshima Rapid Transit 1 Main Line
Astram Line
18.4km 63 PASPY 1994.8
Yokohama Rapid Railway Yokohama Rapid Railway 1 Main Line
Minatomirai Line
4.1km 202 PASMO 2004.2
Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit Tokyo Waterfront Area
Rapid Transit
1 Main Line
Rinkai Line
12.2km 249 Rinkai Suica 1996.3

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