Streetcars or tramcars (trams) used to be very popular in Japan in the early 20th century. Over time, their number dwindled due to the emergence and flourishing of regular cars and subways. They soon became a thing of the past. Though most places have completely removed their trams, some areas in the country have kept them so as to promote tourism. Some of these streetcars can be found in Sapporo, Tokyo, and Hakodate. Let’s take a closer look at these tourist favorites!
The streetcar in Sapporo is operated by the Sapporo City Transportation Bureau. At its peak in 1958, it consisted of 11 lines and 7 routes over a 12 km length. In 1970, only three lines remained due to the shrinkage brought about by increased automobile ownership and the opening of the Sapporo Municipal Subway, an underground rubber-tyred metro system in Hokkaido. The remaining three lines all connect at Sapporo Station with the JR Hokkaido main lines. Depending on the distance of your trip, each ticket costs between 200 and 360 yen.
The network of streetcars in Tokyo is called Tokyo Toden. It used to boast 41 routes during its peak, but this network has also declined due to the emphasis nowadays on bus and subway as modes of transportation. Now, only one of its former routes remains in service. It is called the Toden Arakawa Line, which is being operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation. It is the sole survivor of Tokyo Toden’s streetcar system which operates in the northern and eastern part of Tokyo.
The Hakodate Tram Line is operated by the Hakodate Transportation Bureau. It used to have 6 lines with 12 routes, but the same thing has happened to the tram in Hakodate as in Sapporo and Tokyo as the number of passengers dramatically decreased. Currently, the system has only 4 lines, with 2 routes having a length of 10.9 km (Yunokawa and Jūjigai). On the parts where the lines run on the same track, the tram can come as often as every 5 minutes. In the evening, they only come every 20 minutes.
Riding one of these trams is a worthwhile experience as they still have the look and feel of the public transport in the 50’s of the last century, so it is easy to feel like you are being transported back through the history of Japan’s urban transit system. Another plus side is that riding a tram is a good way to get around the city while being gentle with the earth’s natural resources. Have a pleasant ride!