Ceremony marks 150th year of Japan’s 1st railway

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Emperor gives a speech at a ceremony to mark the upcoming 150th anniversary of the launch of the nation’s first railway in Tokyo on Thursday.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — A ceremony to mark the upcoming 150th anniversary of the launch of Japan’s first railway was held Thursday at Tokyo Station Hotel, housed in the building of JR Tokyo Station.

The event, cosponsored by the transport ministry and the “Railway Day” executive committee, which comprises railway operators and others, was attended by the Emperor and Empress, officials of the ministry, railway industry people and others.

“We will pass on the tradition and mission of railways to the next generation,” Yuji Fukasawa, president of East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, said in a speech.

“Japanese railways have played an important role as a highly credible public transport system,” transport minister Tetsuo Saito said in a celebratory speech, which was read on his behalf by parliamentary vice transport minister Yasushi Furukawa.

The Emperor said in a speech that he has used railways since his childhood, citing his “fond memories of singing some old railway songs” when he was an elementary school student. Praising the railway industry people’s efforts to continue offering services amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Emperor said, “I hope our country’s railway services will get through this difficult time and continue underpinning the economy and livelihoods.

A ceremony held in 1972 for the 100th anniversary of the first railway was attended by Emperor Showa, and his wife, Empress Kojun, the grandparents of the current Emperor.

The country’s first railway opened on Oct. 14, 1872, between Shimbashi Station in Tokyo and Yokohama Station in Yokohama with a steam locomotive that traveled on the line becoming a symbol of Japan’s westernization movement at the time. The spread of railway services since then has supported industrial development and people’s lives. Oct. 14 is designated as “Railway Day” in Japan.

The industry is now at a critical juncture, however, as many railway operators have been facing a slump in earnings in recent years due to the country’s falling population and the novel coronavirus crisis. In particular, the fate of loss-making railways with low passenger traffic in regional areas is a major challenge.