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Goin’ Japanesque!

3 Vehicles from Japan’s Past – Predecessors of Shinkansen?

In present days, you can go anywhere on the earth thanks to the high-technology and various types of power that are now available. To list some, there are airplanes, Shinkansen (bullet trains), trains, motorcars as well as Segways, a latest type of vehicle. Here we introduce the story of times when these comfortable vehicles that can go anywhere in a short period of time were still not available.


1. Oxcart


Genji Monogatari Emaki (The Tale of Genji Scroll)

In the Heian Era (794-1185), the oxcart was used for nobles’ general transportation. Not all the roads were paved at the time and as Japan had few flatlands, people preferred oxen to horses as they were quieter and more powerful. The cart swayed too roughly with the high-speed of the horse so people could not make use of that high-speed.

Also Heian nobles never rushed to go anywhere and rather they enjoyed showing off their authority by moving slowly and gracefully with the speed of the ox.


In order to display the nobles’ authority, the appearance of the oxcart was luxuriously and gorgeously decorated giving a profound touch to it.


No one is using the oxcart for transportation in today’s Japan but it is still used in events such as the rites and festivals every year. It has been inherited as one of Japanese traditions.
Related: Heian Period Revived After 1000 Years: The Gokusui no En Event at Motsuji Temple


2. Palanquin


The palanquin is a man-powered vehicle that was often used mainly in the Edo Era (1600-1867). A seat was hung on a pole and several people were arranged at each end of the pole to carry the palanquin. The palanquins for commoners had a simple construction as shown in the picture.


On the other hand, the palanquins for court nobles or samurai families were, just like the oxcart, luxuriously decorated and came with the sliding door making it a private-room-like space. Also, to avoid the palanquin swaying too much, it was carried by about four people.

Even still, people on the palanquin felt the uncomfortable swaying and it required tremendous effort from the carriers, so it soon went out of fashion.


3. Rickshaw


The biggest factor for the palanquin becoming obsolete was the rickshaw that appeared during Meiji Era (1868-1912) and was largely utilized until Taisho Era (1912-1926). By adding the wheel, it succeeded in significantly reducing the sways and carrier’s load when compared to the palanquin.



The rickshaw is not used as an everyday transportation either but it is still used for the rickshaw experience in sightseeing areas including Asakusa and Kyoto. Many of you may already have the experience of riding one.

By the way, the rickshaw that carries cargo instead of people is called Daihachiguruma (large two-wheeled wagon).



It is said that the Japanese transportation system has a good reputation even overseas. With the cabin crews’ good services and good management of customers’ luggage in aviation industry; the precise time schedule of arrival and departure, the clean stations, and well-developed railway infrastructure that allows you to travel around the entire country by train; and the automated door for the backseat and drivers’ good services on taxis.

It may be thanks to the foundation created by the man-powered vehicles introduced in this article that the Japan’s transportation system today reached such a high-quality level.

Related: Transportation

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