Japan Air Lines Co., Ltd. was established on August 1, 1951, with the Government of Japan recognizing the need for a reliable air transportation system to help Japan grow in the aftermath of the World War II. The airline was founded with an initial capital of \100 million; and its headquarters located in Ginza, Tokyo. Between August 27 and August 29, the airline operated invitational flights on a Douglas DC-3 Kinsei, leased from Philippine Airlines. On October 25, Japan's first post-war domestic airline service was inaugurated, using a Martin 2-0-2 aircraft, named Mokusei, and crew leased from Northwest Airlines. On August 1, 1953, the Diet of Japan passed the Japan Air Lines Company Act, forming a new state-owned Japan Air Lines on October 1, which assumed all assets and liabilities of its private predecessor. On February 2, 1954, the airline began its first international service, carrying 18 passengers from Tokyo to San Francisco. The flight was operated by a Douglas DC-6B named City of Tokyo, made stops at Wake Island and Honolulu before arriving in San Francisco. To this day, the flights between Tokyo and San Francisco are still designated as Japan Airlines Flight 1 and 2, to commemorate its first international service. The airline, in addition to the Douglas DC-3, Douglas DC-6B and Martin 2-0-2s, operated Douglas DC-4 and Douglas DC-7C during the 1950s.
In 1960, the airline received its first jet, a Douglas DC-8, and entered service to Seattle and Hong Kong. Soon after, it decided to re-equip the fleet, exclusively using jet aircraft. During the 1960s, many new international destinations were established, including London, Moscow, New York, Paris and Pusan. By 1965, Japan Air Lines was headquartered in the Tokyo Building in Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo. In 1972, under the 45/47 system, the so-called "aviation constitution" enacted by the Japanese government, JAL was granted flag carrier status to operate international routes. The airline was also designated to operate domestic trunk routes in competition with All Nippon Airways and Toa Domestic Airlines. The signing of Civil Air Transport Agreement between the People's Republic of China and Japan on April 20, 1974, caused the suspension of air route between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Japan on April 21. A new subsidiary, Japan Asia Airways, was established on August 8, 1975, and air services between the two countries were restored on September 15. During the 1970s, the airline bought the Boeing 727, Boeing 747, Convair 880 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10 to accommodate its growing routes within Japan and to other countries.
In the 1980s, the airline performed special flights for the Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko of Japan, Pope John Paul II and for Japanese prime ministers, until the introduction of the dedicated government aircraft using two Boeing 747-400, operated as Japanese Air Force One and Japanese Air Force Two. During that decade the airline introduced new Boeing 747-100SR, Boeing 747-SUD and Boeing 767 jets to the fleet, and retired the Boeing 727s and Douglas DC-8s.
By 1965, over half of the JAL's revenue was being generated by transpacific routes to the United States, and the airline was further lobbying the United States for fifth freedom rights to fly transatlantic routes from the East Coast. In 1978 and 1984, JAL started flights to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively, via Anchorage and San Juan; the stopover was changed to Los Angeles in the 1980s-1990s, and then to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1999. Through 2009, the airline operates fifth freedom flights between New York and Sao Paulo; and between Vancouver and Mexico City.