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Cover of timetable for Dai Nippon Kōkū

Imperial Japanese Airways (大日本航空株式会社 Dai Nippon Kōkū Kabushiki Kaisha?, also Greater Japan Airlines or Greater Japan Airways) was the national airline of the Empire of Japan before World War II, and was the forerunner of the modern Japan Airlines.


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With the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, there was a tremendous need for air transport capability by the Japanese military, which had traditionally drawn on the resources of the civilian national flag carrier, Japan Air Transport, for its charter requirements. As Japan Air Transport’s capacity was limited, conflict arose between the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy over priority, and the government saw the need for the creation of a single, national monopoly. The government bought a 50 percent share of Japan Air Transport, and renamed it the Dai Nippon Kōkū in December 1938. After the start of 1942, the airline became completely government-owned.

In the late 1930s, Dai Nippon Kōkū operated an extensive international network with a combination of foreign and domestic aircraft. The airline was linked with Manchukuo National Airways for routes in Chosen and Manchukuo. Internationally, it had routes in mainland China, Indochina, the Netherlands East Indies, and the Philippines, and it connected with European and American airlines in Southeast Asia. Flights were planned to Thailand, Burma, and British India, but these were never established due to the outbreak of World War II. Internally, Dai Nippon Kōkū linked the Japanese home islands with the Kwantung Leased Territory, Korea, Taiwan, Karafuto, and Saipan and Palau in the South Pacific Mandate. The airline made special flights to serve the west and central Pacific areas using converted military flying boats.

With the start of the Pacific War in December 1941, the Japanese government suspended all commercial operations, and the airline was requisitioned for use only in military operations. Operations continued until the surrender of Japan in August 1945, despite heavy losses. During the Allied occupation, surviving aircraft and equipment were confiscated, and civil aviation in Japan was banned until the formation of Japan Air Lines in 1951.



  • Wilson, Stuart (1999). Airliners of the World. Australian Aviation. isbn = 1-875671-44-7. 

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