An unprecedented 10-day Golden Week holiday started Saturday ahead of the Imperial succession, with bullet train stations, airports and expressways crowded with travelers heading to their hometowns, major cities and overseas destinations.
From the morning, there were long lines at check-in and luggage drop counters at Tokyo’s Haneda airport as the rush of travelers leaving the capital during the holiday peaked, while the occupancy rate of nonreserved cars of many bullet trains topped 100 percent.
With Emperor Akihito’s abdication set on April 30 and the ascent of Crown Prince Naruhito the following day, areas around the Imperial Palace, where related ceremonies will be held — and other popular spots in Japan — attracted a wave of tourists.
“This will be a good memory as I wanted to come here before the Imperial era changes (from Heisei to Reiwa),” said Junko Suzuki, 48, a housewife from Akita Prefecture.
Iichi Shimada, 61, a company employee who was on a one-day bus tour from Yokohama said, “I hope Reiwa will be an era without wars or natural disasters, as the Heisei Era saw many disasters.”
Visitors crowded other tourist spots as well. At the iconic Tokyo Skytree, Taishin Kanno, a physiotherapist from the city of Fukushima, said, “Since I started working, I didn’t think I can rest for so long like this.”
“It is the first day of the 10-day vacation, and speaking of Tokyo, I thought a visit to Skytree would be a start,” said the 23-year-old, who was visiting the 634-meter tower with a friend.
The number of vacationers from Japan traveling domestically and overseas is expected to reach a record high during the extended Golden Week vacation, according to a major travel agency.
Golden Week — running through May 6 — has been lengthened to 10 days this year for the first time to celebrate the Imperial succession.
Travel agency JTB Corp. said 24.67 million people are set to travel between April 25 and May 5, up 1.2 percent from the same period last year, with 24.01 million on domestic trips and 662,000 going overseas, both record highs.
While many people will use the break to take longer vacations than usual, travel packages celebrating the Crown Prince’s ascension and the start of the new era next Wednesday — after Emperor Akihito’s abdication the previous day — are popular.
Nippon Travel Agency Co. said it has sold out a three-day tour from Osaka to Izumo Grand Shrine, a Shinto shrine in Shimane Prefecture historically associated with the royal family, to celebrate the end of the Heisei Era and beginning of Reiwa.
The agency has also received many inquiries for its May 4 day trip from travelers who want to join other well-wishers when they will be allowed entry into the Imperial Palace to congratulate the new Emperor.
“There is a huge momentum for both domestic and overseas trips,” a spokesman for the agency said.
Internationally, trips to nearby destinations such as South Korea and Taiwan, and relatively distant ones such as Hawaii and Europe are popular.
Myanmar has become an attractive destination for Japanese tourists after it began granting them visa-free entry for a year from last October.
Among domestic trips, the operator of the Hokkaido Shinkansen saw the first year-on-year rise in its seat reservation for the Golden Week holiday since the opening of the service in 2016.
Travelers can get from Tokyo Station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hokkaido — where cherry blossom blooms latest in Japan — in less than four hours, after a timetable revision in March.
“We expect an increase in passengers as (the holidays) overlap with the cherry blossom season” in Hokkaido, an official at Hokkaido Railway Co. said.