Japan’s four major islands, Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku are covered by an extensive and reliable network of railways. Trains are a very convenient way for visitors to travel around Japan, especially in conjunction with the Japan Rail Pass.
About 70 percent of Japan’s railway network is owned and operated by the Japan Railways (JR), while the remaining 30 percent belongs to dozens of other private railway companies, especially in and around metropolitan areas.
Japan Railways (JR Group) is the successor of the national Japanese National Railways (JNR), which was privatized in 1987 due to huge debts and mismanagement.
The JR Group is made up of six regional passenger railway companies, which are JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Shikoku, and JR Kyushu, and one nationwide freight railway company, JR Freight. Together they operate a nationwide network of urban, regional and interregional train lines and the shinkansen (bullet trains).
The operation areas of the regional JR companies and shinkansen lines
Private Railway Companies
Dozens of private railway companies exist in Japan. The smaller ones consist of just one line, while others operate quite extensive railway networks. Some of the major private railway companies are listed below:
Tobu (approx. 460 km) http://www.tobu.co.jp/ Tobu operates an extensive network of railway lines into the suburbs and prefectures north of Tokyo. Interest for Tourists: Access to Nikko.