2. Age of Modernization
(from Meiji Restoration to the 1950s)

After ending two hundred years of isolation, the revolutionary government of the Meiji Era (1868-1912 C.E.) quickly started modernizing the surface transport system by importing new technologies from Europe. Unlike China and Europe, Japan did not have a history of horse-drawn carriages as a method of transport. It was thus impossible to transform the ancient roads, designed strictly for the passage of people and horses, into modern roads in a single step.
The beautifully maintained pre-modern roads of the Edo Era began to deteriorate under the burden of modern horsedrawn carriages and human-powered vehicles (or rickshaws). Arthur Crow, who visited Japan in 1881 C.E., recorded this observation in “Highways and Byways in Japan”: “The Tokaido is in a dreadfully bad state, with ruts and holes large enough almost to swallow a cart, and yet traffic is very heavy, both for horse and man-power vehicles”.
The slow improvement of roads can be partially attributed to the decision by the Meiji Government to give rail and sea transport higher priority over roads. This decision was intended to allow Japan to catch up with the advanced nations of the West as quickly as possible. The backwardness of the road system in Japan continued until 1945 when Japan was defeated in World War II and the entire national landscape was devastated by bombings and other catastrophes of war. During the reconstruction process in Japan, the modernization of roads in Japan was fully accelerated along with the development of railways.