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How American Occupiers Helped Doom Japan's National Public Railways
Douglas MacArthur's dream turned nightmare
First responders carry the casket of JNR President Sadanori Shimoyama after his body was found dismembered on the Joban Line in Abachi on July 6, 1949. (Source)
On the morning of July 5, 1949, Sadanori Shimoyama went into a department store in central Tokyo to buy a birthday gift for his wife. Less than 24 hours later, he was found dead on the rail tracks in the suburbs of Tokyo, his body dismembered after a freight train struck him in the dead of night.1
The death of Shimoyama – on his 35th day into his new job as the first President of a new Japanese National Railways (JNR) – shocked a nation still inured to civilian deaths just four years prior in the final months of World War II. The inconclusive investigation on Shimoyama’s death and its motives continue to grip Japan to this day as one of its great postwar mysteries. To present day, Shimoyama lives on in mystery novels and manga books, the latter drawn by the legendary cartoonist Osamu Tezuka.2
The ‘Shimoyama Incident’ was an ominous start to JNR, a new public corporation overseeing all national rail in Japan. JNR was the brainchild of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) staff led by American general Douglas MacArthur, who sought to rebuild postwar Japan in his image of a democratized and demilitarized nation tightly within the United States’ orbit. As Japan needed to rebuild after surrendering to the Allies, SCAP stressed the importance of an efficient national rail system to its economic recovery and purposefully intervened in the formation of JNR.3 Unlike its predecessor, the Japanese Government Railways, a branch of the Ministry of Transport, JNR was envisioned by SCAP as a profitable public corporation with great autonomy and independent of political influences – both aimed to permanently weaken the remnants of pre-war Japan’s political establishment.
MacArthur and SCAP however were full of contradictions in the critical formation process of JNR from 1947 to 1949. They envisioned a strong union presence for JNR but repeatedly undermined them until openly declaring hostilities by 1949. They dreamed of an autonomous public corporation free from political influence but co-signed the handover of JNR’s most important decision-making powers to the Diet, Japan’s national parliament. They sought to break the remnants of the pre-war, elitist bureaucracy but relinquished control of the JNR to that exact cohort.
Any unfinished business to remold the JNR in SCAP’s image after Shimoyama’s death would be abandoned within a year. By summer of 1950, MacArthur was occupied with Korea, where a civil war would commence in June. He would soon leave Japan to oversee the war efforts. MacArthur would famously be relieved of his duties by President Harry Truman in 1951 due to increasing feuds over the Korean War; a year later in 1952, SCAP would close shop after the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of San Francisco.
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The fundamental friction undermining administrative clarity would eventually spiral JNR — which rebuilt and modernized its national rail network, including the new Shinkansen, within 15 years’ span of its creation — into massive debts starting in the 1960s. A vague and byzantine political hierarchical leadership, shortsighted political meddling and the Diet’s general resistance to JNR’s own requested reforms dug JNR further in insolvency, culminating in an eye-watering 37.3 trillion Yen debt by the mid-1980s.4 A frustrated JNR workforce and a hamstrung JNR management – casualties of that aforementioned friction – feuded constantly and built over time longstanding public perceptions of a JNR filled with lazy, uncaring and undisciplined employees in a country with a famed overwork culture.
It all climaxed on April 1, 1987, when JNR was dissolved, privatized and broken up into six Japanese Railways (JR) passenger companies and one freight company through seven legislations passed by the Diet – the supreme powers which catalyzed JNR’s political and financial crises in the first place.
SCAP’s incomplete and inconsistent legacy and its continuous meddling especially on the labor front were foreboding to JNR’s fortunes as much as Shimoyama’s infamous death. The American occupiers had a chance to truly remake Japanese railways – and Japanese public services – in the victor’s vision back in 1945 until as late as 1948. But new priorities, unintended consequences and successful resistance by Japanese political establishment distracted SCAP from achieving its true vision, leaving only compromised realizations. SCAP achieved its base objective – birth of a new Japanese national railway agency – but its successive yield was far more catastrophic. As the academic Ian Smith would stress, and as this author would testify, “the seeds of the ultimate destruction of the JNR were sown at the outset.”5
When discussing the issue of privatization in passenger rail on a national scale, proponents often point to the stellar success of JR as proof of transferability. The discourse, however, can only remain shallow without understanding a more comprehensive history of its predecessor, JNR. This is the first of a multi-part examination of JNR’s history, starting from the very beginning of postwar Japan through the dissolution of JNR and the birth of JR.
To accomplish this work, I rely heavily on two English-language papers found online: University of Stirling academic Ian Smith’s 1996 study “The Privatisation of the JNR in Historical Perspective: An Evaluation of Government Policy on the Operation of National Railways in Japan” and Ohio State University academic Eunbong Choi’s 1991 study “The Break-up and Privatization Policy of the Japan National Railways, 1980-87: A Case Study of Japanese Public Policy-Making Structure and Process.”
As with all previous S(ubstack)-Bahn posts on Japan, I welcome all feedback, including corrections, to any facts listed in this article. I do not speak Japanese and acknowledge I am working with a fractional amount of literature on this topic only available in English. I recognize the immense disadvantage I am working with to produce these amateur historical examinations. But nonetheless, thanks to the written works of Smith and Choi, I feel compelled to explore and examine to the best I can.
On November 4, 1945 (Showa 20), a train headed for Tokyo with full passengers. This photo was taken in Chiba Prefecture on the way home from shopping for food such as potatoes. (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Postwar Survival on Rail
On August 15, 1945, Japan unconditionally surrendered to the Allies. During the war years, Japan’s economy and society became entirely dependent on rail as the singular mode for transportation of people and goods. As petroleum supply was choked out by Allied advances in Southeast Asia, gasoline for private automobile use was severely rationed. Trains moved soldiers, rice and most importantly, coal, which provided the country with much-needed energy for its domestic front.6 It is said that even on the day of surrender, when Emperor Hirohito announced the news on radio, some Japanese took solace in the fact that at least the trains were running.7
Despite wholesale bombings by the United States which flattened cities and much of the urban rail infrastructure, the national rail network operated by Japanese Government Railways remained intact. Unlike in the European Theater, where railroads were a crucial and frequent target for Allied bombers, Japanese rail was relatively spared.8 One postwar Japanese economic report tallied only a 10% loss in its rail assets between 1935 and 1945, compared to 81% loss in all commercial ships, another crucial mode of transporting goods through the archipelago nation.9 Despite the relatively light damage, Allied air raids still killed more than 4,400 railway employees and 1,400 passengers.10
Rail became even more central to the Japanese after the surrender. In fact, daily survival depended on trains. Rationed food and supplies were woefully insufficient, and a 1945 rice crop failure exacerbated the critical food shortage nationwide. From November 1945 to October 1946, the daily staple ration for a Japanese adult was 1,042 calories – half of the recommended daily caloric intake for an adult.11 Urban residents would take the train to rural villages to barter their possessions for food. Black markets were prevalent everywhere, especially near train stations in cities. (Black markets over time became present-day alleyways and neighborhoods full of bars and restaurants adored in Tokyo)12 Amid the desperation came depravity; serial killer Yoshio Kodaira targeted young women at busy train stations in Tokyo to rape and murder. Kodaira murdered at least seven women between 1945 and 1946 before being arrested and later executed.13
Despite the reliance on trains, the network itself was in a “state of collapse” by 1945 due to decades of negligence and wartime destruction.14 Since the 1930s, the Japanese Government Railways has appropriated funds reserved for new rolling stock and capital improvements to the nation’s imperialist military efforts. During wartime, profits from railway services were diverted to support armament production.15 The lack of investment, heavy wartime destruction and the rise of passenger volume led to major accidents with heavy casualties. From August 1945 to 1946, Japan recorded 13 rail derailments or accidents which killed more than 10 passengers. Solely from these major accidents, 367 were killed with more than 1,200 injured in total.16 In 1947, a packed wooden train derailed on the Hachiko Line north of Tokyo, killing 184 passengers. The Hachiko Line derailment remains the worst railway accident recorded in Japan.
Despite the anemic conditions of the national rail network, employees and management both maintained huge pride in working for the railways. In the pre-war days, working for the railways was deemed the "pinnacle of the government service in Japan" outside its imperialist operations.17 After the war, the pride continued but combined with a new powerful social force: the emergent labor unions, encouraged by MacArthur in the first year of his command of Japan as a pillar of his democratization efforts of Japan.
In August 1946, a year after the surrender, railway workers tested their new powers when they resisted a government proposal to lay off 130,000 temporary workers to give those jobs to ex-servicemen and repatriates returning from the war fronts or former colonies. Fearing a national rail strike crippling the country already on the brink, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida compromised to hire some 168,000 ex-servicemen and repatriates without laying off any temporary workers.18 In early 1947, the same workers won from the government wage increases after threatening another national rail strike.19 These early victories for railway workers would carry ramifications for the yet-to-be-born JNR as its overlords sought to wrest societal control back by any means necessary.
The Reverse Course
General Douglas MacArthur landed in Tokyo on August 30, 1945 to take command of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and reshape postwar Japan at America’s behest. MacArthur would become the ultimate political power in Japan. Under MacArthur’s mandate, SCAP’s Civil Transportation Section (CTS) immediately assessed the condition of the national railway and urged administrative reforms of the Japanese Government Railways as it discovered heavy graft, waste and political interference:
Operated by and as a bureau of the Government, political aims predominated throughout the railway system. Wasteful practices resulted from the emphasis on serving local communities where political leaders would gain benefits…Accounting practices and methods, moreover, made it possible to conceal deficits in such a way that an appearance of prosperity was maintained until 1945.20
The CTS recommendations were in line with MacArthur’s own vision for postwar Japan. MacArthur envisioned the national railway to be independent of general government financing – and of general government encroachment. SCAP staff and an academic committee to restructure the national railway noted the pre-war Ministry of Transport’s penchant for intrusion into railway affairs and finances and recommended their removal from rail operations. The committee closely studied New Deal agencies in the United States – mainly the Tennessee Valley Authority – and public sector corporations in the Soviet Union as models for a new Japanese national rail corporation.21
SCAP sought a mass trade union movement to provide the muscle for their new New Deal-inspired public corporations. In December 1945, the Diet passed the Trade Union Law, which granted workers in both public and private sectors to belong to unions, collectively bargain and take part in strikes. The Trade Union Law was based upon the 1935 Wagner Act in the United States, one of Roosevelt's New Deal Coalition’s hallmark legislations.22 Subsequent pro-union laws in the following months helped the explosion of unions in the Japanese workforce; union membership in the transportation sector alone ballooned from 66,000 in 1945 to 993,000 two years later.23 Overnight, new rail unions like the National Railway Workers Union (nicknamed Kokuro) commanded immense popularity and political will.
SCAP initially hoped that the liberalization of trade unions would spur an empowered but non-confrontational movement much like the British Labour Party, who were swept into Parliamentary power in 1945.24 In 1947, the Japanese Socialist Party won the most Diet seats and elected its first socialist Prime Minister (who lasted a year). However, SCAP increasingly became alarmed by the unions’ aggression and emboldenment and, most importantly, its increasing affiliation with the Communist Party. The Communists were a fringe political group in Japan, liberated from prison by SCAP after the war and allowed to run for elections under MacArthur’s good graces. Only nine months after allowing Communists and Socialists to hold a May Day parade in 1946, despite threats to MacArthur’s life, SCAP prohibited a general strike in 1947 in its first salvo against the Japanese Left.25 Future tolerance for strikes or progress in protecting labor rights has run out, as SCAP signaled a shift in its governance of Japan known as the “Reverse Course” (Gyaku kosu). The days of a labor-friendly, often Left-leaning SCAP were over.
May Day in Tokyo, Japan; May 1, 1946. More than half a million people attended May Day parades in Japan allowed by General Douglas MacArthur. (National Guardian Photographs; PHOTOS 213; Box 4; Folder 47; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.)
On July 22, 1948, a letter signed by General MacArthur was delivered to the Japanese Prime Minister Ashida Hitoshi, who took the office from the Socialists four months prior. The letter, known in Japan as the Mashokan, was focused on the National Public Service Law passed in 1947 which established labor rights for public sector employees. MacArthur all but ordered Hitoshi to restrict collective bargaining rights and prohibit strikes by government employees enshrined in the National Public Service Law. Hitoshi complied rapidly, issuing a government ordinance on July 31. In December, the National Public Service Law was revised to MacArthur’s liking. The Mashokan sent shockwaves through Japan’s public sector and labor unions, who were still coming to terms with the Reverse Course.26
Arguably as important as MacArthur’s words on the National Public Service Law was his recommendations for establishing public corporations. The Mashokan specifically called out railways, salt and tobacco as three industries for where public corporations would be best suited to infuse spirits of public service and enterprise.27 In exchange for overhauling its operational structures, a new, more flexible public sector labor relations law was drafted and passed for the three soon-to-arrive public corporations: the Japanese National Railways (known in Japanese as Kokutetsu); Nippon Telegraph and Telephone; and Japan Tobacco and Salt Corporation.28 As MacArthur, the Supreme Commander, wanted, MacArthur received.
But MacArthur’s vision for JNR was limited to the very broad contours, and SCAP staff would feud with each other and the Japanese politicians to define his vision. In the six months of deliberations in 1948 to determine the powers of a new national rail corporation, SCAP’s Civil Transportation Section – who ran the 1945 assessment of the state of Japan’s railways – insisted on a high degree of independence for JNR, including a Board of Directors, a new government-free accounting system, power of issuance of bonds and ability to dictate its passenger fares and freight rates. But CTS staff faced heavy opposition from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transport and the Diet, who wanted JNR to be under its sphere of influence. The scales tipped toward government influence when SCAP’s Economic and Scientific Section ultimately sided with Japan’s government establishment over its CTS peers.29
In December 1948, the JNR Law established JNR as its own public corporation. But it was a far cry from CTS’s initial recommendation of a Tennessee Valley Authority-esque national rail network. If anything, the structures were opposite of what CTS envisioned: The law safeguarded senior civil servants who fought against autonomy and locked in their high status within the company.30 Bonds would have to be issued with Ministry of Transport approval. Annual budgets and accounts will need the Diet’s approval. Setting fares and freight rates would also need Diet’s final approval – with Ministry of Transport approval first. As one observer noted, “the politicians and government officials didn’t want to lose their power…It was ridiculous to expect efficient operation from this organization.”31
Others involved in the formation of JNR have pointed the finger back at SCAP as the reason for their futility. Despite the presence of several successful public corporations in Japan, such as the Teito Rapid Transit Authority which was the main operator of Tokyo’s subways, the CTS ignored such models and opted for American or Soviet replications. The insistence of importing foreign models irked the Japanese counterparts and made them more resistant to sweeping change. The ignorance of Japanese advice by SCAP during their occupation remained a sore point for many involved in the discussions. Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who served through most of SCAP’s seven-year occupation wrote of the American occupiers in his memoir:
The Occupation, with all the power and authority behind its operation, was hampered by its lack of knowledge of the people it had come to govern, and even more so, perhaps, by its generally happy ignorance of the amount of requisite knowledge it lacked.32
The reduced political autonomy reserved for the embryonic JNR caused consternation immediately after the passage of the JNR Law and hamstrung qualified candidates to lead the agency. In one telling story, Yoshida’s staff reached out to a qualified candidate who served as a long-time president for a private passenger rail company. After mulling the position, this candidate came back to the staff “in a fury” and said:
I had my subordinates check out [the JNR Law] and I’m quite shocked. It is clear that according to the Law the JNR budget is decided by the Diet through the Transport Ministry, and the government decides everything from line construction to transport related business. The wages of the employees must also be decided within the budget…In what area does the President have any authority? Why isn’t the President in charge of business operations? It’s not like Miyajima [Yoshida’s staff who asked directly] to ask me to do a job where I just sit around…Tell him I won’t do it.33
Yoshida eventually settled on a lesser-qualified candidate with no experience running a railway to take over as JNR President starting June 1, 1949: Sadanori Shimoyama.
The train which crashed out of the tracks at Mitaka Station, July 15, 1946.
Summer of 1949
The Reverse Course was in full swing by the start of 1949, with SCAP increasingly taking antagonistic relations with the trade unions and the emergent Japanese Left. MacArthur in Tokyo and President Harry S. Truman in Washington were increasingly concerned of the increasing gravitational pull of the Communists across East Asia: mainly, the Chinese Communist Party crushing the Kuomintang in the final months of the decades-long Chinese Civil War and of the presence of Communist North Korea led by Kim Il-Sung. Japan was still mired in postwar destitution, which attracted millions to their own Communist Party. In the January 1949 Diet elections, Yoshida led his new coalition party to a majority, but perhaps more important was the Japanese Communist Party winning 10 percent of the popular vote and 35 seats, 31 more than in the previous election.
In January 1949, American economist Joseph Dodge visited Japan to advise SCAP on how to combat inflation and foster economic growth -- and help wean Japan off SCAP resources. Two months later, Dodge presented his plan to resuscitate Japan’s economy. The “Dodge Line”, as it is known, emphasized the need for a balanced government budget by raising taxes and reducing government spending. Yoshida was hesitant as spending reduction meant massive public sector layoffs in a shrunken economy; the United States dangled an extra $100 million in loans to Yoshida as a carrot if he followed through.34
The national railways (soon to be JNR) at the time was one of the largest public sector employers with a whopping 618,000 employees. The 1947 decision by Yoshida (in his first term) to retain temporary workers and employ ex-servicemen and repatriates greatly ballooned the headcount which remained through 1949. It thus became a supple target for mass reductions. The day before JNR officially came into being, SCAP and the Diet codified the need for labor reduction into law, instructing JNR and new President Shimoyama to fire almost 100,000 employees.35
The National Railway Workers Union (Kokuro) was incensed by the order to lay off a sixth of their workforce the day before JNR’s official opening. As Kokuro would learn in the coming weeks, the labor relations arbitration processes, ensured in another recent watered-down public sector labor law, was insufficient for Kokuro to protect its workers’ employment. Kokuro was dealt another blow when its wage increase proposals were rejected for the inaugural JNR budget in 1950 despite the increases being within budget. These rejections and the increasing whiplash felt by union workers of a labor-hostile SCAP – who only four years ago blessed its entrance and growth – left “an undercurrent of bitterness which had a lasting effect on labor relations” in JNR, according to Smith.36
Caught between a demanding SCAP and Yoshida Cabinet and an apoplectic Kokuro was Shimoyama himself, who would be found dead on train tracks operated by his JNR. Mysteries abound about the cause of Shimoyama’s death. The mainstream hypothesis is suicide, of a man so overwhelmed by the thankless task ahead of him. The counter theory is murder by one of many suspects: by either disgruntled JNR employees facing termination, Communist Party members taking action against an ostensibly anti-labor bureaucrat, or SCAP members frustrated by Shimoyama’s slowness in the mass firings. The inconsistencies in the autopsy findings – such as the lack of blood found around his dismembered body – fuels the mystery surrounding the Shimoyama Incident to present day.
The Shimoyama Incident is usually discussed with two other JNR incidents that summer which would shock the nation. Ten days after Shimoyama’s death, a JNR train derailed at Mitaka Station in Tokyo, killing six people. The train conductor and nine others – all but the conductor were Communist Party members – were arrested. Despite denying any involvement, the conductor was later found to be the sole conspirator and was sentenced to death before being reduced to life imprisonment. (The conductor’s son has fought to exonerate his father, who died in prison, as late as 2019.)37
A month later, another train derailed at Matsukawa north of Tokyo. Ten members of the Communist Party and ten Kokuro members were arrested for sabotage. Seventeen total were found guilty, with four receiving the death sentence and two to life imprisonment. Upon appeal, the Japanese Supreme Court overturned all seventeen convictions. Both the Mitaka Incident and Matsukawa Incident remain unsolved mysteries as to who and why committed the deadly accidents. The incidents did help cement a growing narrative of Communists sabotaging an newborn JNR, including murdering their bespectacled, weary-looking President.
SCAP Peaces Out – to War
In early June 1950, a few weeks before North Korea’s invasion into South Korea, General MacArthur wrote a letter to Prime Minister Yoshida. In the letter, MacArthur wrote his concerns of a new opponent to his democratic values he sought to implant in Japan, “a new and no less sinister groupment has injected into the Japanese political scene.” This group “if achieved, surely lead Japan to an even worse disaster.” While the word Communist was never mentioned in the letter, MacArthur no doubt was signaling to Yoshida that the Communist presence in Japan must be uprooted. 38
SCAP and the Yoshida cabinet partnered to lead a nationwide red purge to remove Communists or left-wing activists from positions of power. The purge was wholesale, as the Yoshida administration demanded the same accountability from the private sector. Tens of thousands of Communist activists and suspected Communists were fired across Japan. Within the Japanese National Railways alone, 467 employees defined as left wing activists were terminated. 39
As labor languished in death by a thousand cuts, the post-Shimoyama JNR management expressed optimism believing it to be an improvement over the Japanese Government Railways. But it quickly disappeared. Despite believing they had internal decision-making powers, JNR management’s initial decisions on tariff policy and wage increases in 1949 ultimately needed the sign-off from the elected officials at the Diet.40
Further dreams were crushed in 1950. JNR proposed to increase freight rates to reduce passenger fare costs to welcome riders to a new era of Japanese rail. In September 1949, the Transport Council approved the plan for a 90% increase in freight tariff to subsidize passenger fares. But the Diet hemmed and hawed until the winter of 1950 and limited the freight tariff hike. Due to the Diet delay with the freight rate increase, JNR missed its timing and scrapped the fare reduction plan altogether. It was yet another reminder for the management that nothing can be done without the Diet’s approval.41
Any window of opportunity to perhaps revisit the JNR Law and fix the administrative shortcomings closed shut by the summer of 1950. From June 25, Korea was the total focus for MacArthur, who would lead an amphibious landing invasion at the port town of Incheon in September. Japan became an afterthought for MacArthur and SCAP as they were fully committed to the Korean War. If anything for SCAP, the Korean War helped resolve the economic malaise which ailed Japan since 1945; the Japanese economy boomed as Japan became the supply depot and war manufacturer for the Korean War. The effect in Japan had SCAP officials claim that “Korea came along and saved us.”42
As the economy boomed, so did JNR’s coffers. JNR’s passenger volume grew 150% from 1950 to 1965. JNR was responsible for 60% of all passenger transport volume and 52% of freight volume in the 1950s.43 The country was getting quickly wealthy per capita – but not wealthy enough to afford the high-luxury goods, like a private automobile. Within this sweet spot, JNR held a monopoly in land transportation until the mid-1960s.
Despite financial success in the 1950s, neither the JNR management or Kokuro were content with their political conditions. Despite SCAP’s well-to-do intentions, both sides became distrustful of the scope of their own powers, to each other, and to their new higher powers in the Diet and the Ministry of Transport, after their own experiences of rejection between 1945 and 1950. Ian Smith summarizes the situation:
The weaknesses in the arbitration machinery convinced Kokuro that the public corporation’s management had little to no authority to deal with labor issues, and the draconian left wing purge further demonstrated that the government – strongly backed the SCAP administration – was an implacable opponent of progressive labor policies. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that these weaknesses from the outset, by entrenching the attitudes of government management and labor unions, had a profound effect on the later performances of the Japanese National Railways. This factor, combined with the effect of the drafting out of the clauses which would have ensured the autonomous operation of the National Railway Public Corporation, goes a long way to explain the JNR’s lack of enterprise and its ultimate demise.44
Aftermath of the Matsukawa derailment on August 17, 1949. (Source: Wikipedia)
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From its birth, JNR was responsible for two purposes: maintain good financial health expected of a public service, and to maintain and develop a societal good in the form of a national rail network. The two came into conflict immediately as JNR had no control over its own financial future but was expected to maintain a growing national rail network. JNR management learned quickly that the societal good aspect could prove to be a useful political asset to allow the Diet to pass a growing budget every year. JNR passed the buck of their financial well-being to the Diet politicians, who gladly signed the budget as long as there was a tangible benefit for their own constituents.45
To win over the Diet, JNR needed the Ministry of Transport as a key ally. While the Ministry was no longer directly responsible for railway operations as they had in pre-JNR days, it still advised the Diet on the budget, operations, and capital investments. But an alliance was hard to find. JNR carried a reputation of being a more prestigious agency to work than the Ministry of Transport, with JNR getting first choice on the most qualified engineers for hire. In fact, when JNR opened in 1949, the Ministry of Transport was located on the first floor of the new JNR headquarters.46 JNR’s perceived elitism stewed over decades to develop a spirit of opposition among the Ministry staff against JNR’s internal reforms. This lopsided rivalry would devastate JNR in its final days in the 1980s, when they desperately needed government allies for self-preservation.
Structural problems were rife within JNR but they are not enough to adequately explain why JNR underwent full dissolution, privatization and division in 1987. For one, it does not adequately explain how JNR accumulated a 37.3 trillion Yen debt between 1964 and 1987. The enablers of JNR’s debt crisis – the Diet – would ultimately serve as the JNR’s hangman. In the next posts, we will review the granular processes which led to the death of JNR and the birth of its privatized successor, Japanese Railways (JR).
From our perch of history, it must be emphasized one last time SCAP set the first domino for JNR’s downfall. SCAP’s failure to remove political machinations from the new JNR would have two effects: hinder any progress meant to be attained from a wholly new public corporation, and foster the perception the failing JNR in the second half of its 38-year life was a foreign imposition on Japanese public service. As explored in the next post, the media rhetoric in the 1980s push for privatization often centered JNR’s failures to a foreign miasma plaguing the pride of Japanese infrastructure. JNR was “sick”, as if its rails were snake-bitten.47 Foreign toxins would have to be removed to save the host’s life. “Japanised” medicine would be the only solution for this sickness.48
Smith, Ian. “The Privatisation of the JNR in Historical Perspective: An Evaluation of Government Policy on the Operation of National Railways in Japan.” The University of Stirling, 1996, p. 78
Choi, Eunbong. “The Break-up and Privatization Policy of the Japan National Railways, 1980-87: A Case Study of Japanese Public Policy-making Structure and Process.” Ohio State University, 1991, p. 470
Smith, p. 118
Caprio, Mark E., & Sugita, Yoneyuki. “Democracy in Occupied Japan: The U.S. Occupation and Japanese Politics and Society.” Routledge, 2007. p. 29
I highly recommend Joe McReynolds, Jorge Almazan and co.’s wonderful book “Emergent Tokyo: Designing the Spontaneous City” which traces the postwar history of these alleyways in Tokyo.
Smith, p. 78
Smith, p. 71
Smith, p. 629
Smith, p. 89
Smith, p. 90-91
Smith, p. 79
Smith, p. 83-84
Smith, p. 87
Choi, p. 239
Smith, p. 95
Smith, p. 103
Smith, p. 98-102
Choi, p. 256
Smith, p. 110
Smith, p. 108-109
Choi, p. 256
Smith, p. 117
Smith, p. 143
Smith, p. 144
Smith, p. 150
Smith, p. 152
Smith, p. 154
Smith, p. 162
Smith, p. 166
Smith, p. 152-153
Smith, p. 180
Choi, p. 349
Smith, p. 622