“5000 Miles of Railway in Japan” commemorative postcard, Nagoya, 1906.

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“On 20 May 1906, a grand banquet was held at Nagoya for the celebration of the completion of 5,000 miles of railway in Japan.

“It will be seen from the table that the mileage of Japanese railways has been rapidly increased during past years. In 1878, the number of passengers carried was 2,754,426 whereas; in 1905, it was augmented to 113,675,403. During the same period the volume of goods traffic increased to over 21,000,000 tons while the total receipts increased from 644,459 to 69,033,165 yen. Thus the growth of traffic has been far beyond the most sanguine expectations, and it has contributed to advance the activity of railway enterprises in Japan.”

“Japan: Internal Improvements: Communications and Transportation”, The Americana: A Universal Reference Library, edited by Frederick Converse Beach & George Edwin Rines, 1912

“5000 Miles of Railway in Japan” commemorative postcard, Nagoya, 1906.

“Japanese … celebrated by reciting the famous Railway Song, written by the classical scholar Owada Takeki and published in five installments in 1900. Intended as a grammar school textbook – students were to learn their history and geography according to the stops along the railroad – the Railway Song became highly popular among the public at large.

“The first installment – the Tokaido line in six verses – opened with the famous line:

With one sound of the whistle, from Shinbashi
Swiftly departs our train.

"5000-Mile Celebration", 1909.

“5000-Mile Celebration”, with a “Special Grand Military Maneuvers” commemorative stamp issued in 1909. Inset photo is of Nagoya Castle. Nagoya was chosen as the locale of the celebration in part because it had also hosted the “1,000 Mile” ceremony in 1889.

Three hundred seventy-six miles and eighty-four train stops later, the song writer exclaimed:

It’s like a dream!
Having raced past the fifty-three post stations [of the old Tokaido]
we rest in a Kobe inn,
Thanks to the fact that trains give people wings.

“… By the time of the nationalization [in 1907] and the ‘5000-Mile Celebration’, the rail network had expanded sufficiently to warrant new editions of the Railway Song … Thus, by the end of the 1900s, Japan had acquired the basic skeleton of a national railway system and begun the process of filling it out.”

The Sound of the Whistle: Railroads and the State in Meiji Japan, by Steven J. Ericson, 1996

Map: Imperial Government Railways in Japan, c. 1907

Map: The Imperial Government Railways in Japan, c. 1907, showing the extent of the country’s government-owned rail system 35 years after the opening of the Yokohama-Shimbashi railroad.

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