Heavy New Year holiday traffic seen in Japan after COVID-19 restrictions eased

In a change from recent years, travelers in Japan flooded airports and train stations on Friday as they headed to their hometowns for the New Year holiday season. This rush comes after the government downgraded the legal status of COVID-19 to the same category as the seasonal flu.

To control the overcrowding, major railway companies like Central Japan Railway Co and West Japan Railway Co have made many of their bullet train seats reservation-only during the year-end and New Year period for the first time. This move aims to make traveling more efficient and less stressful for passengers.

At Tokyo Station, announcements reminded travelers of the need to reserve their seats for the fastest shinkansen, the Nozomi. This is a major change for many who are used to the first-come, first-served approach.

“It is convenient because we don’t have to line up when every seat is for reservation,” said Tomoko Hino, a 42-year-old traveler heading to Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture with her family.

All Nippon Airways reported that 99 percent of its domestic flights departing from Haneda airport in Tokyo on Friday were fully booked, with a total of approximately 55,000 passengers. Japan Airlines also saw similar high demand for their flights.

“I want to relax and spend the year-end and the New Year with all of my relatives,” said Michiko Otsuki, a 37-year-old Tokyo resident traveling to Okayama Prefecture.

In preparation for the holiday rush, six major Japanese railway companies announced that the number of reservations for seats on their trains totaled 3.5 million between December 28 and January 4, representing a 44 percent increase from the previous year.

Both the train operators and airlines expect the return rush of travelers to peak next Wednesday as people begin to head back to their usual places of residence after the holiday season.

Since the government’s decision to downgrade the legal status of COVID-19 in May and relax health restrictions, Japan has seen a significant increase in domestic and international travelers. Face mask rules were lifted in March, allowing individuals to decide whether to wear them in public spaces.

With this influx of travelers, authorities and transportation companies are working hard to manage the crowds and ensure a smooth holiday travel season for all passengers in Japan.

As we enter the New Year, it is clear that the impact of COVID-19 on travel and transportation is still very much a part of daily life in Japan, and efforts continue to adapt and manage the situation effectively.

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