Japan residents heading home for 1st time in 2 years despite surge

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Passengers wait on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen line platform at Tokyo Station in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Many people have begun traveling home for the New Year holidays amid the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Passengers formed long lines at an airport infection screening station on Wednesday. One passenger, a 50-year-old company employee from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, tested negative in an antigen test before boarding the plane to Miyazaki Prefecture to see his parents for the first time in two years. The man said he could not make up his mind until the last minute whether to fly home amid a surge of infections.

“I was relieved to test negative, but I won’t be visiting a shrine for New Year’s or going out to eat,” he said. “I want to be careful to not get infected.”

Unlike last year, when people tended to stay home for the New Year’s holiday, this year saw an increase in the number of people at airports and train stations.

As of Dec. 17, reservations for domestic flights between Dec. 25 and Jan. 4 for Japan Airlines Group were at 66.1%, 23 percentage points higher compared to the same period last year. Reservations for All Nippon Airways Group were at 65%, up 15.7 percentage points compared to last year.

On Shinkansen bullet trains, the occupancy rate for non-reserved seats on the Tohoku, Yamagata, Joetsu and Hokuriku shinkansen trains from Tokyo were between 80% and 130% as of 4 p.m. on Wednesday. On the Tokaido Shinkansen, the occupancy rate for non-reserved seats reached a maximum of 140%.