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A gift from a friend of a friend - an illustrated summary of the 1970 Japanese National Railways annual report. There's some great photos in it, and it has an additional Tokyo rail map pasted inside the back cover.







As most of us know, in those days the Yamanote line was called the "Yamate" line.





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Yes the kanji is still 山手線 Yamate-sen even today which is one of those ambiguous words in written Japanese. 


Nice addition. Looks like Nishi Nippori hadn’t quite opened on the line either (1971) which apparently is also when JNR romanised it back to Yamanote. 

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@marknewton, ooh, nice one! 


The map truly illustrates the transitional nature of the National Railroad Kantō area commuter/suburban network of the mid Shōwa era. With the Five Commuter Plans, a plan the National Railroad came up with in the 1960's as a way to help alleviate the horrible congestion rates experienced on the commuter network at that time (a lot of it was self inflicted though), which resulted in upgraded infrastructure, additional trackage being laid etc., among the 5 most congested routes of the network (Tōkaidō/Yokosuka, Chūō, Chūō-Sōbu, Yamanote and Keihin-Tōhoku lines), still being enacted at this point. As a result it shows a network which isn't yet the current network, yet isn't really the old network either, which makes it a truly fascinating subject. With the Sōbu-Kaisoku-sen (opened between 1972 and 1981), Tōkyō Tunnel (first section opened in 1972, the entire section tunnel Ryōgoku and Shinagawa opening in 1976), Musashino-sen (1973~1978) and Keiyō-sen missing, while for example the Negishi extension to Yōkōdai (March, 1970) also adds to this transitional nature (the final section between Yōkōdai~Ōfuna section would open in 1973). The Yokosuka line also is another interesting part of this map, as it is still using the Tōkaidō Hon-sen between Shinagawa and Tsurumi, as opposed to the current route using the Shinatsuru-sen which started in 1980. The same is true for the operational pattern of the Yokosuka line, being operated as an extension of the Tōkaidō Hon-sen as opposed to it's own operational entity, with services between Tōkyō and Ōfuna operating as Tōkaidō line services, and the section between Ōfuna and Kurehama acting as an extension of the Tōkaidō line (through trains between Tōkyō and Yokosuka/Kurehama were of course marked as Yokosuka line trains, operationally speaking they were operated in tandem at that point), the aforementioned switch to the Shinatsuru line as well as further, physical, separation of the two lines and the start of through services with the Sōbu Kaisoku line through the Tōkyō Tunnel starting in 1980 (effectively merging the Sōbu-Kaisoku and Yokosuka line operationally, prior to this Sōbu-Kaisoku services would terminate at Shinagawa), gives another interesting historic snapshot.

Oh, and then there's also the Akabane line, which also...*goes on another tangent...*


Well you get the point, tldr, a really interesting acquisition, Mark!



9 hours ago, marknewton said:

As most of us know, in those days the Yamanote line was called the "Yamate" line.

3 hours ago, Kamome said:

Yes the kanji is still 山手線 Yamate-sen even today which is one of those ambiguous words in written Japanese. 


Well, yes and no, that is indeed true for the transliteration in romaji, but not so much for the Japanese reading of the word, at least not in this specific case, so there's a bit of nuance to be added here ( @Kamome, seems like you done kicked the hornets nest good this time😅(haven't forgotten the other one yet, hopefully soon(tm) 😉).


Interestingly enough, the official reading of 山手 has always been やまのて (yamanote) as opposed to やまて (yamate) for the Yamanote line. Though yamate is indeed one of the correct readings, it is a bit of an ambiguous word as @Kamome mentions, as both the literal reading of the kanji can be used, as well as the addition of the particle の (no, possessive) . As with most Japanese names, yamate/yamanote is a geographical reference, in this case referring to hilly areas or the high ground in urban areas, which is contrasted with the 下町 (したまち/shitamachi) or downtown area. It literally translates to hand of the mountain, though there is some debate over the exact meaning of hand with at least two different theories, and as perhaps can be inferred is an older form of Japanese, early modern Japanese to be exact (in its current day usage), and was given it's meaning during the Tokugawa/Edo period.

The origins of its usage can be traced back to the city of Edo itself, as it went through a period of exponential population growth during the Tokugawa period, and especially during the mid Tokugawa period. As the city became the political center of Japan it grew exponentially, and eventually residential areas started to being built outwards of the original residential areas which had centered around Edo castle as well as the eastern part of the Musashino plateau (at that point in time this section would've mostly housed members of varying samurai clans, priests etc.), with new areas being built towards the lower plateaus in the east being built for general residence (craftsmen, merchants etc., i.e. the "lower" classes in the Tokugawa societal hierarchy). Because of this expansion a distinction was being made between the newer shitamachi, or downtown, areas and the original yamanote, or uptown, areas, with the residential areas to the west of Edo castle becoming the Yamanote area. The distinction between yamanote/yamate and shitamachi would also spread to other Japanese cities during the Tokugawa period, including Ōsaka, which started to use a similar type of distinction as it started to expand beyond its original residential areas surrounding Ōsaka castle (part of the Uemachi plateau), with areas build around Ōsaka castle and the larger Uemachi plateau becoming known as the yamanote while newer areas . Similarly, yamate and yamanote can also be used to simply define a geographic area, and several areas using Yamate or Yamanote can be found all over Japan, the reading (or perhaps pronunciation would be the more correct term here, general literacy rates during the Tokugawa (and earlier) and even during most of the Meiji period were quite poor after all, though the Meiji era imperial rescript on education (1890) would improve the situation considerably) depending on the city or town in question, though yamate seems to have been the more popular reading outside of Edo/Tōkyō.


The Yamanote line as we know it today, was actually named after the aforementioned Yamanote/Shitamachi distinction, which means that even though the literal reading of the kanji would've been Yamatesen, it was always known as the Yamanote-sen instead, both officially and in popular parlance. The name itself first appears in 1901 when the Nippon Tetsudō integrated the Shinagawa and Toshima line, prior to the opening of the latter. As the Toshima line, which would connect Ikebukuro and Tabata, and requested, and received, permission to change the name of the future combined section to Yamanotesen. This name carried over after the 1904 railway nationalization law came into effect in 1906 and the Nippon Tetsudō was one of the first private railways to be nationalized in November, 1906. The name itself was finalized in 1909, still pertaining to the same section of track, and would eventually become the name for the Yamanotesen as we know it today as it was double tracked, electrified and expanded/separated between 1909 and 1925, with the first loop services starting in late 1925. 


A collection of Nippon News, newsreels with various railway related items, broadcasted between 1941 and 1944:


-> At the 4:33 mark the arrival of a Yamanote-sen train bound for Ōtsuka and Ikeburo is being announced by the platform attendant, though it is somewhat difficult to discern because of the audio quality, however, it is clear the announcer actually says Yamanote-sen as opposed to Yamate-sen. Interesting to note that the leading car is a MoHa 30 type car, a series of 17m class cars built between 1926 and 1928 as the first semi-steel cars built for the Ministry of Railways, recognizable by the clerestory roof (they would be the last Ministry of Railways cars to be built as such, all later series would be of the arch roof type). Besides this, the other items are more than worth a watch, especially for anyone with even a passing interest in Japanese (railway) history.


The confusion between Yamanote and Yamate is actually something which started after the war, during the allied occupation. Prior to the occupation all station signs were pretty much written in kanji for the most part, though adding romaji to station signs had been started after WW1, progression had been slow.

This would change however during the occupation, as railway companies were expected to transport allied personal on behest of the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP), and as such function as one of the primary ways to of transport for American soldiers stationed in Japan (for which the railway companies were forced to set aside a number of "Allied personal only" cars which could only be used for this purpose alone (i.e. they had to be marked as such, and couldn't be used in regular service), which created a whole slew of problems taking into account the shortage of equipment caused by the war, an explosion in passenger numbers and the lack of production capacity and materials to replace as well as augment existing fleets coupled with restrictions imposed by SCAP, but that's a topic for another time 😉), SCAP decreed the addition of romaji to station signs, as well as English language signage in order to allow American personal the ability to navigate the railway system, in 1946. This meant all station names had to be transliterated into romaji, and for some reason lost to history, the National Railway employee responsible for transliterating Yamanote, chose to go with Yamate instead, which is why it was known as the Yamate line to the English speaking world between 1946 and 1971. Ironically, as the station signs didn't have furigana titles added to them yet, meant that for those who weren't (yet) familiar with the correct reading of the name, expected the romaji transliteration to be the correct reading, which lead to quite a bit of confusion, even among National Railroad personal. This was corrected in 1971 with the nationwide addition of furigana titles to station signs, route names etc, with the transliteration being corrected to Yamanote at that point as well. 


So, for another tldr, yes but actually no😉.


At least, this is my understanding of the Yamanote/Yamate thing, as well as its origin in Japanese. I'm sure those with a better grasp of the language and/or history may be able to correct me, but this is how I understood it to be. Hope it is of interest/help for some.



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I actually remember riding the Yokosuka Line when it still ran on the Tokaido Line into the above ground Tokyo Station tracks. Many Yokohama-Tokyo commuters switched to the Tokaido Line trains as they didn't like the detour through Shin Kawasaki and the dark passage under the Tokaido Shinkansen viaduct. Probably the long escalator up to ground level at Tokyo Station didn't help either.  This was also before Higashi Totsuka station was built.  The area around there was full of grassy hillsides and open lots.  Unbelievable when you see it now.

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