Tokyo Streetcars (Tokyo Toden), c. 1910-1920.

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Tokyo streetcar, c. 1910.

Tokyo streetcar, c. 1910.

See also:
Horse-drawn trolley, Nihonbashi, c. 1900
Ginza Crossing streetcars, c. 1960

“Electric Tram-cars”, Tokyo, c. 1910.

“The first streetcars, referred to as a ‘horse trolleys without the horse’ (uma no nai basha), could hold up to forty people, sixteen seated and the rest standing. Like trains, they were rickety and made of wood. They had ten spaces for windows on both sides, poles for passengers to grasp for stability, and interior lights. Service started at 6:00 a.m. (5:00 a.m. Ginza) and lasted up until 1:00 a.m., and male transport workers were stationed at each stop to help control the crowds that gathered.

“All of the former horse-bus routes were electrified by 1904, and streetcar service was extended throughout the center of the city, connecting Shimbashi Station and such flourishing entertainment and commercials areas such as Ginza, Ueno Park, and Asakusa.

“… [T]hree streetcar companies – Tokyo densha tetsudo, Tokyo shigai tetsudo (nicknamed ‘Gaitetsu’), and Tokyo denki tetsudo (better known as the Sotobori line) – provided a network of trams that wove through the center of Tokyo. Each company’s streetcars were painted a different color … For example, Gaitetsu cars, which served areas as far west as Shinjuku, were green … The Sotobori streetcars had large glass-plate windows, luxuries many people had not seen before.

“These lines were consolidated into the Tokyo Railway Company (Tokyo tetsudo kaisah) on September 11, 1906, the year the nationalization of railways became law … Reasons for the streetcar merger included the public’s confusion about routes and the need to standardize schedules.”

Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road, by Alisa Freedman, 2011

Map: Streetcar (in red), subway (Ueno Station-Asakusa), and commuter trains; Tokyo, c. 1930. (For reference, the Imperial Palace is at center.)

“There are 110 miles of electric trams actually opened in the city of Tokyo and, according to the Company’s charter, 217 miles ought to be opened by the fall of this year [1910].

“The Company’s charter provides that, unless natural calamities or other unavoidable reasons present themselves, the whole system of lines must be completed by December of the 43rd year of Meiji [1910], and that failure to comply with this provision shall invalidate the charter. This question is now said to be under consideration. The Government must feel that its own refusal to allow the Company to charge a reasonable fare is alone responsible for the delay. On the other hand, the Company’s legal obligation is explicit.

“No one predicts what exit will be found from the dilemma.”

The Japan Daily Mail, July 2, 1910

Electric streetcar glides across Shimbashi, c. 1905. Route #1, from Shinagawa-to-Ueno via Shimbashi & Ginza, was the first streetcar route to be completely electrified.

“Cherry Blossom at Akasaka”, Tokyo, c. 1910.

Map: Streetcar, Tokyo, c. 1940.

Map: Streetcar, Tokyo, c. 1940. (For reference, the Imperial Palace is at center.)

At its peak in the 1930s, the Toden system boasted 41 routes with 213 kilometers of track. In the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, city planners had already begun to place more emphasis on vehicular bus service (principally because of the expensive repairs to track and tram wires needed after the earthquake). And, in the postwar era, the increase in automobile traffic resulted in steep reductions in ridership. From 1967 to 1972, 181 km of track were abandoned.

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