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Shinkansen and express train passengers reach Golden Week record low

During the recent Golden Week holiday in Japan, the number of passengers on shinkansen and other express trains nosedived to a record low in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, traffic data showed Thursday.

Japan Railways Group’s six passenger service companies — East Japan Railway Co., West Japan Railway Co., Central Japan Railway Co., Hokkaido Railway Co., Shikoku Railway Co., and Kyushu Railway Co. — said shinkansen and other express train services were used by a total of 916,000 passengers between April 24 and Wednesday, down 95 per cent from a year ago.

The figure struck a record low for the holiday period since data collection began in 1990, as authorities across the country asked people to stay at home to contain the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus-caused illness. People usually return to their hometowns or take vacations from late April to early May over the long holiday period.

For the Akita and Yamagata shinkansen lines, passenger numbers dropped 97 per cent, for the Tohoku and Sanyo shinkansen lines 95 per cent and for the Tokaido Shinkansen line 94 per cent.

Due to fewer travellers in the midst of tight border controls, the number of passengers on the Narita express linking Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture with the metropolitan area plummeted 99 per cent.

The forecast for passenger numbers on the trains looks bleak after the government decided on Monday to extend the nationwide state of emergency to reduce infection rates until the end of May, from its previously scheduled expiration date on Wednesday.

Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu shinkansen, line operators connecting popular tourist destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Fukuoka, will cut services by 20-30% from Monday onwards.

Meanwhile, on the last day of the holiday period, tourist destinations in the country saw reduced visitor numbers, according to foot traffic information provided by mobile carrier KDDI Corp., obtained mainly from an analysis of smartphone location data.

At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, foot traffic in the Grand Shrines of Ise in Mie Prefecture was down 95.8 per cent from last year’s Golden Week average.

Pedestrian numbers fell 94.6 per cent at Karuizawa Station in Nagano Prefecture, 89.2 per cent at Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Hyogo Prefecture, 74.8 per cent at the Kaminarimon entrance gate of Sensoji temple in Tokyo, 70.1 per cent at areas in front of Hakodate Station in Hokkaido and 65.2 per cent at the hot spring resort of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture.

As for road traffic, between April 25 and May 6, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said expressway traffic fell 70 per cent from last year’s holiday period.

According to four expressway operating companies, traffic jams of 10 kilometres or more have not been reported on major expressways.

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