Year-end travelers crowd stations, airports

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Passengers board a Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train at JR Tokyo Station on Thursday.

Stations and airports were filled with travelers heading to their hometowns for the New Year on Thursday, as the holiday period kicked off without pandemic restrictions for the first time in three years.

All morning, there were long lines of families and young people pulling suitcases at JR Tokyo Station’s Shinkansen bullet train platforms.

A 46-year-old office worker from Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, was returning to Yamaguchi Prefecture after being away from home for work. Only seats for the first-class cars were available when he booked the ticket two weeks ago, he said.

“I’m relieved that I managed to get a ticket,” he said. “I just want to kick back and relax.”According to the JR companies, by 4:30 p.m., unreserved ticket sales were as high as 150% of seating capacity on the Tokaido Shinkansen and 140% on the Hokuriku services.

Flight reservations were at their peak too, with domestic flights departing from Haneda Airport almost fully booked. According to airlines, the number of flights and seats that have been made available are back to 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

Outbound lines on expressways were congested mainly in the morning. According to the Japan Road Traffic Information Center, vehicles were backed up for 23 kilometers on the Kan-Etsu Expressway in Saitama Prefecture and 14 kilometers on the Tomei Expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture.