TOKYO, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Japan's Bon Festival season began on Saturday, with fewer train and air travelers than usual as COVID-19 resurgence continues to spread in urban areas including the capital and its surrounding areas.
In the morning, there was no congestion at Tokyo station with most travelers waiting Shinkansen bullet trains by their own or in pairs. They were wearing face masks and kept social distances, while station staff were handing out sanitizing wipes.
However, few people were travelling with their families. With Tokyo still the epicenter of the nationwide outbreak, Tokyo Governor Yoriko Koike had urged Tokyo residents to refrain from traveling to other prefectures during the Bon Festival period.
A female student in her 20s heading to Ibaraki Prefecture said, "My body temperature was normal for the past week, and my parents said it was OK to go home. I have no plan to hang out with local friends and will enjoy the holiday at home."
According to the JR railway group, the operator of the Shinkansen, some bullet trains saw only 5 percent of their non-reserved seats filled in the morning with the highest rate limited to 70 percent, compared to well above the 100 percent normally seen on the first day of the holiday season.
The operator also said that the number of seats booked for Shinkansen bullet trains between Friday and Aug. 17 plunged 79 percent from a year earlier.
Meanwhile, there were fewer travelers at major airports. Around this time each year, they were crowded with travelers and people going back to their hometowns. This year, reservations for domestic and international flights for Friday to Aug. 16 slumped 60 percent and 97 percent respectively, according to the airlines.
At Narita airport, east of Tokyo, a 39-year-old woman from Kanagawa Prefecture was waiting for a flight to Germany to meet her fiance. "I'm looking forward to meeting with him but also concerned because I will be quarantined upon returning to Japan," she told local media.
A 32-year-old man, also from Kanagawa Prefecture, was travelling with his wife to Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture in northern Japan.
"We had been hesitant to go back to my hometown and finally decided to go. But our stay will be shorter. We will also wear face masks and disinfect thoroughly when we arrive there," he said.
Japan is struggling to strike a balance between supporting economic growth and containing the spread of COVID-19. After a nationwide state of emergency was fully lifted in late May, there was a sharp rise in infections in Tokyo and other urban areas.
However, the government has no intention of requesting people to hold off on trips to their hometowns and elsewhere during the Bon Festival. Meanwhile, it has launched a controversial travel subsidy campaign to help revive the domestic tourism industry.
Many have expressed deep concern against the nationwide tourism promotion campaign. They feared that the mass movement of people would lead to a wide spread of the coronavirus. Enditem