Despite its rugged terrain, Japan has a highly developed transportation system. In 2002, Japan had 23,654 km (14,699 mi) of railways, of which about 90% is 1.067 m narrow gauge, and 15,895 km (9,877 mi) is electrified. The government-owned Japan National Railways (JNR) was privatized in April 1987 and divided into six railway companies; feeding into these six lines were 144 other private railroads. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Japan's rail lines face increasing competition from automotive, sea, and air transport, as well as rising operating costs. High-speed lines, however, have been successful in partially meeting these problems; the most famous of these is the Shinkansen, which opened to traffic in October 1964 between Tokyo and Osaka and was extended in March 1975 to Fukuoka in northern Kyushu; in 1984, the Shinkansen superexpress trains covered the 1,069 km (664 mi) between Tokyo and Fukuoka in less than seven hours, with maximum speeds of 210 km/hr (130 mph). In 1982, the first section of the northern Shinkansen line, between Tokyo and Omiya, began operations. This line was extended in 1983 to Niigata and to Morioka, in northern Honshu. By far the longest railway tunnel in the world, the 54.2 km (33.7 mi) Seikan tube linking Honshu with Hokkaido, was opened in 1983 and completed in 1985; the tunnel, lying beneath the Tsugaru Strait, cost well over $2 billion. A bridge linking Honshu and Shikoku was recently opened. Subway lines serve nine cities—Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, Yokohama, Sapporo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Sendai. There are 410 km (255 mi) of track, with 196 km (122 mi) in Tokyo's 11 lines. Since 1964, downtown Tokyo has also been linked with that city's Haneda Airport by a monorail transport system, and several other monorails have been put into operation. In addition, a 7 km (4.3 mi) monorail serves the city of Yokohama.
Roads have become the most important means of domestic transport. Motor vehicles in 2000 numbered 52,438,000 passenger cars and 20,214,843 commercial vehicles, up from 25,848,000 and 8,306,000, respectively, in 1985. To speed traffic flow, a total of 6,070 km (3,772 mi) of expressways were open to traffic in 1996. In 2002, there were about 1.15 million km (715,981 mi) of roadways, of which about 863,003 km (536,270 mi) were paved.
Japan is one of the world's great maritime nations. The chief ports are Yokohama (for Tokyo), Nagoya, and Kobe. In 2002, Japan's merchant fleet included 615 ships, totaling 10,995,839 GRT. Since 1959, Japan has emerged as the world's leading shipbuilder, but output declined in the late 1970s and 1980s in the face of a worldwide recession and increased competition from the Republic of Korea (ROK).
Japan had 173 airports in 2001, of which 141 had paved runways. Principal domestic airports include Haneda in Tokyo, Itami in Osaka, Itazuke in Fukuoka, and Chitose on Hokkaido. Principal international facilities include Kansai International at Osaka and New Tokyo International at Tokyo. Japan Air Lines (JAL), the nation's major domestic and international airline, began operations in 1952 and inaugurated international flights in 1954. All Nippon Airways, established in 1957, began as a domestic system serving smaller areas of the country and acting as a feeder line to JAL but now serves overseas routes; it began to carry freight in 1987. In 2001, Japan's airlines performed 7,627 million freight ton-km (4,739 million freight ton-mi). In the same year, 107,870,200 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.