Japan’s transportation system was quite undeveloped before the Meiji period and was to prove to be a major factor in the successful modernization of Japan. The basketchair palanquin that had previously served as the universal mode of transportation throughout Japan was soon replaced by rickshaws, horsedrawn omnibuses and carriages, bicycles, and other modern forms of transport.
Japan’s transportation system was quite undeveloped before the Meiji period and was to prove to be a major factor in the successful modernization of Japan. The basketchair palanquin that had previously served as the universal mode of transportation throughout Japan was soon replaced by rickshaws, horsedrawn omnibuses and carriages, bicycles, and other modern forms of transport.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Horsedrawn trolleys, were popular by 1883 in Tokyo but were eventually discontinued in 1904 with the introduction of electrified streetcar service. There also existed horsedrawn tramcars (tetsudo basha), carriages drawn by horses on railroad tracks, which were realized in 1882 in Tokyo. Initial efforts to introduce the service in 1872 were refused because the roads were too narrow and it was thought to be too dangerous: as there were still many horsedrawn omnibuses, rickshaws, carts and pedestrians along with the tramcars, the streets of Tokyo were congested and frequently hazardous.
Horsedrawn trolleys, were popular by 1883 in Tokyo but were eventually discontinued in 1904 with the introduction of electrified streetcar service. There also existed horsedrawn tramcars (tetsudo basha), carriages drawn by horses on railroad tracks, which were realized in 1882 in Tokyo. Initial efforts to introduce the service in 1872 were refused because the roads were too narrow and it was thought to be too dangerous: as there were still many horsedrawn omnibuses, rickshaws, carts and pedestrians along with the tramcars, the streets of Tokyo were congested and frequently hazardous.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Colour woodblock print illustrating various modes of transportation.

Unknown
Edo-Tokyo Museum
XIXth Century
Woodblock Print
90210581
© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


The plight of a rickshaw runner was not an attractive one. These poorly paid labourers often ran up to forty miles a day, and due to the stress on their heart and lungs often died at an early age. A ride through the streets of Tokyo earned the runners little for their efforts and they were obliged to navigate through streets crowded with pedestrians, carriages, and other rickshaws.
The plight of a rickshaw runner was not an attractive one. These poorly paid labourers often ran up to forty miles a day, and due to the stress on their heart and lungs often died at an early age. A ride through the streets of Tokyo earned the runners little for their efforts and they were obliged to navigate through streets crowded with pedestrians, carriages, and other rickshaws.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Clothing of a rickshaw man with hat

Unknown
Edo-Tokyo Museum

90350003
© Edo-Tokyo Museum


Steam locomotive #9

Meiji Mura Park

© Meiji Mura Park


Rickshaw

Rickshaw

Unknown
Edo-Tokyo Museum

90360001
© Edo-Tokyo Museum


The bicycle is a precious commodity

Kotaro Nagahara
Kawasaki City Museum / Archives of Cartoon History

Woodblock print
© Kawasaki City Museum / Archives of Cartoon History


Streetcar

Unknown
Meiji Mura Park

© Meiji Mura Park


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe the development of Japan’s transportation system in the Meiji period, with particular reference to Tokyo
  • Recognize challenges faced in 19th century Tokyo regarding the development of means of transportation
  • Describe the life of a rickshaw runner
  • Describe in pictures and words several forms of 19th century transportation in Tokyo
  • Compare means of transportation in late 19th century Tokyo with urban means of transportation today

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